When NBC announced The Wiz -- the African-American version of The Wizard of Oz, presented as a hit Broadway musical and a movie — would be produced as a live television production, some TV watchers may have groaned.
Previous live telecasts of other musicals have gotten attention mainly as a target for hate-watching. But The Wiz Live! seems to have broken that spell: When it aired earlier this month, it earned 11.5 million viewers — and more if you count DVR replays.
It was one of the top viewing choices of the week among both kids and adults, and was the most-tweeted live special program ever, according to Nielsen's records.
Just this week it earned five Critics' Choice Award nominations. It was rebroadcast on Saturday night, and it's available on NBC.com and other streaming services.
Two of the show's stars — Shanice Williams, who had a huge breakout moment as Dorothy, the Kansas girl who goes on a quest to get back home, and Grammy-winning artist Ne-Yo, who showed off his skills as a singer, dancer and composer as the Tin Man — joined NPR's Michel Martin to talk about the show.
Williams, on performing with so many heavy hitters in her first major professional role
Williams: "At the beginning, I was questioning, 'Am I really the right Dorothy? Did they really make the right choice?' But as we went along the journey, like Ne-Yo says, there is a reason for everything."
Ne-Yo, on whether he was concerned about the hate-watching of previous live musicals
Ne-Yo: "I didn't feel like anything was gonna go wrong. I knew the possibility was there, and I knew that the haters was there and the skeptics were there and everybody was just basically waiting on us to mess up. That kind of created a pressure that just made us do that much better. We basically knew that we were gonna get out there and we were gonna do what we had to do. We knew we were."
On the song Ne-Yo wrote for the new production, "We Got It"
Ne-Yo: "At that point, you kind of see the four friends for the first time just doubting the whole situation. You know, in the song it's Dorothy that actually rallies the troops and gets everybody together and lets it be known that in order to make this happen, we gotta work together — and if we work together there's nothing we can't accomplish."
On the importance of the show's legacy
Ne-Yo: "Kenny [Leon, the director,] jammed it in our head every other day: We're standing on very tall shoulders with this, and we have a responsibility to the legacy of what this is. Let's add a positive note to the legacy. And we went for it, we gave it everything."
On Toto disappearing during the production
Williams: "We were doing the Broadway version. In the Broadway version, Toto comes at the beginning and the end. So, Toto is a star, and he was right where he needed to be."