Broadway Shows on TV, Tape, and DVD
You can't beat the live experience of a Broadway show, but devoted theater fans also like the option of enjoying Broadway on TV and Broadway DVDs
Unlike big screen movies, Broadway shows don't experience the natural of evolution from the theater to DVD and then to cable TV. Capturing the unique energy of a live Broadway performance on tape is tricky, as is navigating the labyrinth of rights issues (i.e. who "owns" the performance), so the result is that few Broadway producers feel it's worth the investment to film a show and then sell it on DVD, especially given the comparatively small market for Broadway video recordings. However, all is not lost for theater fans. There are more Broadway TV airings and Broadway DVDs out there than you might think - you just need to know where to look.
Broadway Shows on DVD
Most Broadway shows that air on TV eventually make it onto videotape or DVD, with the major exception being the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) "Live From Lincoln Center" broadcasts. Broadway DVDs and Broadway tapes are made available through different distributors, so the best way to find them is by just going to Amazon.com. For older Broadway productions that have been preserved on tape, the Broadway Theatre Archive is a wonderful resource that has made many Broadway and theatrical productions taped throughout the 20th century available on DVD and video.
Broadway on TV, Cable, and Pay-Per-View
Historically, network television was a great way to see Broadway on TV, but as theater has lost its popularity in the mainstream, Broadway enthusiasts must look to cable, pay-per-view, and public TV to see Broadway shows on the small screen. A company called Broadway Television Network created the "Direct From Broadway" series to broadcast Broadway shows on pay-per-view. The project bore little fruit, with the most notable Broadway TV broadcasts being Jekyll & Hyde starring David Hasselhoff and the Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together. The producers of the Broadway musical Legally Blonde negotiated a deal with MTV to air Legally Blonde on TV, and the premium cable channel HBO will be airing Will Ferrell's Broadway play You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush.
PBS: Great Performances and Live From Lincoln Center
Over the years, PBS has been the best friend to people hoping to see Broadway on TV. Two regular PBS TV series in particular, "Great Performances" and "Live From Lincoln Center", frequently broadcast all kinds of theatrical performances, from opera and ballet to Broadway shows on television. "Great Performances" has captured Broadway revivals on TV like Company and Cyrano de Bergerac with their Broadway casts intact, Broadway musicals such as Kiss Me, Kate and Jesus Christ Superstar, and numerous Broadway star-studded events such as the South Pacific concert at Carnegie Hall. "Live From Lincoln Center" is more limited since it only shows TV broadcasts of performances from Lincoln Center, which contains only one Broadway theater. But it has brought Broadway TV broadcasts of shows such as Contact and The Light in the Piazza. A third short-lived series, "Stage On Screen", also broadcast Roundabout Theatre Company's Broadway productions of The Man Who Came to Dinner starring Nathan Lane and The Women.
New York Public Library for Performing Arts - Theatre on Film and Tape Archive
The most comprehensive resource for people looking for Broadway (and Off-Broadway) shows on video is the Theatre on Film and Tape (TOFT) archive located at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. An impressive number of Broadway shows from the 1970s to the present have been preserved on tapes housed in this collection. There are two thngs to keep in mind, though. First of all, you can't just wander in and check out the Broadway show tape and take it home. You need to have a library card (a temporary Visitor's Card can be applied for if you aren't local), you can only view a Broadway video right at the library's viewing room, you must make an appointment to do so, and you should have a good reason for wanting to watch the archived Broadway show. The most popular reasons people have for viewing these Broadway shows is because they are a journalist or student doing research, or a theater performer or director who wants to see the original Broadway production of the show they are producing. The second thing to bear in mind is that some of these Broadway video recordings, particularly the older ones, are not as high quality as the ones that air on TV or are sold on DVD for commercial purposes. But TOFT does make an effort to create good quality videos (using multiple cameras for Broadway tapings), so that the archive presents an accurate representation of the shows it preserves.