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Hairspray Live is on tonight, but is the trend for TV musicals running aground?

Sarah Crompton looks at the rising trend of staging musicals on TV

It's nearly that time of year when cultural pundits are asked to make their predictions about trends for the year to come. I've never been much good at that but I would never, ever in 100 years have forseen three years ago that live musicals would make a comeback on American TV.

But they did and they are and it is most peculiar. The success of The Sound of Music in 2013, has been followed on NBC by Peter Pan Live and The Wiz while Fox got in on the act this January with Grease. Tonight, ITV2 viewers can catch the latest NBC offering – Hairspray, which broadcast live on Wednesday.

There are indications that this might be a short-lived fashion

Musical loving viewers like these specials for the star appearances. So Hairspray boasted Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein as Tracey's mum Edna, and the amazing Jennifer Hudson also put in appearance, as did Kristin Chenoweth as nasty Velma, not to mention Martin Short, Derek Hough, Rosie O'Donnell and Ariana Grande. And there is always the excitement of live TV; something might go wrong, though it is usually only minor.

Programme makers like them because they are cheap. The production values are low and there is none of that nasty messing around with filming. It's cheerful event viewing that doesn't break the bank but does create a feelgood glow.

Jennifer Hudson pretty well blew everybody out of the water

Hairspray was, if the American reaction is anything to go by, a pretty mixed bag. It didn't look that great and there were issues with mics and audibility early on. On the other hand, Jennifer Hudson pretty well blew everybody out of the water, coming out of the TV set like the incredible force of nature she is.

There are also some indications that this might be a short-lived fashion. Where The Sound of Music attracted some 18.6 million viewers in 2013 (our own version peaked at 4.5 million viewers in 2015) , and The Wiz with Queen Latifah and Mary J Blige among its stars managed 11.5 million, on the initial overnight figures, Hairspray only attracted 8.9 million, and 2.3 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic.

So a revival that seemed to buck the trend for ever more sophisticated home entertainment, might just be running aground. Enjoy it while you can.

Hairspray Live is broadcast on ITV2 on Friday 9 December at 8pm.

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