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‘Wiz’ Kids Keep Nerves in Check Before Showtime

I’m guessing the butterflies are buzzing around the bellies of the cast and producers behind The Wiz Live!, as it’s showtime at 8 p.m. Thursday and, as our cover story states, anything can happen. Bob Greenblatt, NBC entertainment chairman, described the feeling as “like opening night on Broadway, only to another power” with the filming component added on.

Greenblatt will take his seat Thursday night in the production truck at Grumman Studios on Long Island, alongside exec producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan. Zadan says, there’s no safety net, no Auto-Tune, no second takes. “We sit in the truck with Bob and just go, oh my God, please, let’s get through this,” he says, “and let people do what they’re supposed to do.”

Live TV stagings are almost automatic social media events—and, typically, extreme snarkfests—and Meron and Zadan have very different approaches to the social cataclysm likely to be kicked up when the curtain goes up.

“I don’t read anything,” says Zadan.

“I consume everything,” says Meron.

Meron notes that thick skin is required to enter the turbulent Twittersphere. “It’s a complete free for all,” he says. “It’s the Christians thrown to the lions.”

Greenblatt has modest ratings expectations for tonight, saying he’d be “thrilled” to get the 9.1 million viewers Peter Pan Live! got last year. (Sound of Music Live! had double that the year before.) When it’s over, all parties will retreat for a bit before thinking about what is next in terms of the live stagings. Greenblatt has mentioned The Music Man before, though he says it would take a “real head-turning star” to make that fly.

Rehearsals run October until early December, and they’re intense; Greenblatt says that schedule rules out pretty much everyone working on a TV series. Out of hundreds of musicals, he says, only a couple dozen could work for NBC.

One might picture a bit of anarchy just before showtime, but Greenblatt, himself a Broadway producer, says there’s more typically a paradoxical feeling of tranquility. “It’s kind of astounding--all the people come together and you feel like you’re in the middle of a hallowed space,” says Greenblatt. “Everyone knows their jobs and it’s so well-rehearsed and planned that there’s just kind of calmness before the show starts.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.