Many thought the critical and fan acclaim for 2001’s “Moulin Rouge” meant a musical revival was imminent. It wasn’t. Modern audiences have a limited appetite for the genre, making it especially difficult to launch a TV musical that viewers will tune in for weekly. Attempts to bring more music into the schedule had mixed results.
With some critical and Twitter love for ABC’s limited series “Galavant,” is there still hope for more musical TV?

Recent Musical Hits

The “Glee” creators knew that a musical series could only succeed if it attacked on all fronts. They combined high-quality music, universal themes on the nightmare that is high school, over-the-top humor, outlandishly surreal plots, an attractive cast of all ages, and groundbreaking diversity.

The teenage cast gave the writers a way to voice objections ahead of the viewer. The glee club rolled their eyes at show tunes, demanded more modern music, and cut off any too-poignant scenes with mockery or humor. Over time, they built up an audience that discovered they had been tricked into liking show tunes, victory for teenage geeks, and weepy sentimentality. Though the show eventually spun out of control and lost viewers, it’s still a testament to how a musical series can succeed.

ABC’s “Nashville” isn’t precisely a musical, but it’s so packed with performances and plot-related lyrics and reflective solos that it’s close enough. The series hooked viewers with talented young stars and surprise TV veterans who could really sing. The quality of songwriting on the show makes every song sound like a chart-topping hit.

“Nashville” combined insights into the cutthroat music business with a heavy dose of sexy soap opera melodrama. The show also isn’t afraid to have a sense of humor about itself. Not much on TV can compare to a pregnant Hayden Panettiere zooming around a festival in a goofy disguise and a wheelchair to “secretly” stalk her onscreen ex-boyfriend. Gems like this keep fans glued to their screens, waiting to see what will happen next.

Musical Flops

“Smash” tried to do the soapy backstage drama “Nashville” has done better. The short-lived Broadway series was never sure exactly what it wanted to be, and a reinvention for the second season wasn’t soon enough to save it. In showing us the underbelly of the hyper-competitive theater scene, it created catty, backstabbing characters who were tough to like.

It would have seemed impossible to fail with the immensely popular Hugh Jackman in the lead of a TV musical. Unfortunately, his Vegas series “Viva Laughlin” was a huge flop. Turning a murder mystery into a musical is a difficult disconnect for audiences to overcome, and the poor support casting and awkward pacing made the series painful to watch.

Galavant Saves the Musical?

This season, ABC launched the comedic, half-hour medieval musical “Galavant.” The series received plenty of promotional build-up, luring viewers to this mash-up of absurdist Mel Brooks style humor and earworm tunes.

Like “Glee,” the new series “Galavant” embraces the bold, over-the-top acting and singing of a Broadway musical while simultaneously parodying it. The song lyrics string jokes, sarcasm, and bad puns together in a family-friendly way that still has enough double entendres to keep adults snickering. Fans love the scenery-chewing regulars, and the glorious bits of stunt casting. We get the often-terrifying Vinnie Jones goofily dancing in armor with his doofus king, or “Downton Abbey” stoic patriarch Hugh Bonneville singing the lament of a land-locked pirate.

“Galavant” is made for modern TV, with sing-along YouTube videos and live tweet sessions building buzz on social media. The colorful, comic nature of the series also inspires fans to create their own humor, which further builds the show’s reputation.

A limited series guarantees the show won’t wear out its welcome, and also helps it land talented stars who wouldn’t sign on for a longer project. The fact that it’s only eight episodes makes it more of a “must see” event, rather than something that can be caught up with “eventually” and possibly forgotten. This four-week experiment could reveal the best formula to make musical TV popular again: with humor, catchy tunes, likable actors, and in small doses.