Modern Live TV Broadcasts

In the old days, almost all television programming was broadcast live. Nowadays, live TV is reserved for very few shows, such as Saturday Night Live, and news, sports, and some talk shows and award ceremonies, but not all. When it's not an event that has to be presented in real time, live TV is now mostly a gimmick to boost ratings.  On Thursday, NBC will air The Sound of Music Live, starring Carrie Underwood in a new version of the musical.

Here are some other modern series that aired live episodes:

Gimme a Break! - The sitcom starring Nell Carter broadcast a live episode called "Cat Story" in 1985 as a promotional stunt.

Roc - Charles S. Dutton's comedy series ran its entire second season live. The cast used current event references to prove to the audience that they were not on tape delay.

E.R. - In 1997, the hit medical drama aired a live episode called "Ambush" and actually performed it twice, once for the East Coast and once for the West Coast. All I remember is George Clooney pulling an improvised gag, breaking the fourth wall and twisting his neck for the camera, referencing all the jokes that he tilts his head too much.

The Drew Carey Show - The hit sitcom ran three live episodes, one in 1999, one in 2000, and one in 2001, that incorporated improvised scenes.

One Life to Live - The soap opera broadcast an entire week of live episodes in 2002.

Will and Grace - The 2005 season premiere, "Alive and Schticking," was performed live. Like E.R., the cast did it twice, once for each coast's time zone. Later that season, in early 2006, they aired a second live episode, called "Bathroom Humor."

The West Wing - One of my favorite uses of the live gimmick was when this fan-favorite drama aired an episode about a political debate live in 2005.

30 Rock - Tina Fey's comedy aired two live episodes in 2010 and 2012, again performed twice for the audiences in each American coast.

In addition to The Sound of Music, there have been a couple of other experimental live broadcast specials. In 2000, Fail Safe, based on the Cold War novel and 1964 movie adaptation, aired live, in black-and-white.  It starred George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss, Noah Wyle, and Harvey Keitel. BBC Television aired a live remake of the science fiction classic The Quatermass Experiment in 2005.

Live broadcasts don't always work well on television, but when they do they offer a sense of unpredictable drama and excitement that only live performances can deliver.

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