The ratings for Fox’s Rocky Horror Picture Show remake are in, and something tells us the network won’t be feeling the urge to do the time warp again any time soon.
The Laverne Cox-fronted production pulled in only 4.9 million total viewers, which has to be a disappointment. While the musical did double the Thursday night numbers that Rosewood and Pitch are currently averaging, its returns are well below the 12.2 million total viewers the network saw from Grease: Live earlier this year. In fact, among all the musicals made for TV—live or otherwise—since NBC kicked this whole thing off with The Sound of Music in 2013, Rocky Horror comes in dead last behind 2014’s Peter Pan, which still had nearly double the viewers.
So what went wrong?
The most glaring difference is the fact that the word “Live” wasn’t anywhere in the title this time around. These live musical events have become just that—events—because of the unpredictable nature of live TV. While a great many viewers who turn them on are surely doing so as fans of musical theater, you can’t deny that there is also contingent of people tuning in just to see something go wrong. With no chance of a line flub or dancing accident or even a bonkers Christopher-Walken-in-Peter-Pan-eqsue performance to go completely off the rails with no opportunity to yell “Cut!” and course correct, that crowd had no reason to tune in.
The decision not to film live is especially disappointing after the dizzying new heights the network reached with Grease: Live, a production that absolutely shouldn’t have worked as live television, but did. Where director Tommy Kail found a way to work in several different soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot and incorporate a live audience into the staging, Rocky Horror‘s director Kenny Ortega took one set (Frank’s castle), made it look as antiseptic and shiny as possible, and barely directed the thing.
If you’re not going to go live, go big. Go huge. When Cox made her big debut as Frank for the number “Sweet Transvestite,” she was lowered into the room on a weird dolly by several dancers, as opposed to an elevator like the original. That couldn’t be done live?
So many choices were made to incorporate the feel of the stage show which the Rocky Horror Picture Show was based on into the remake. There was a live band on stage for nearly the entire film. Why do this and not do it live? It just doesn’t really make any sense, unless you’re hiding the fact that your cast can’t handle singing live. (Cox and her co-stars all lip-synced to their own voices from earlier studio recordings that were no doubt sweetened and touched up.)
This all begs the question: Why was Ortega, the man behind the squeaky-clean High School Musical franchise, Fox’s best choice to direct a remake of a hypersexual, gender-bending cult classic ? We love Ortega’s work (Wildcats 4 Life!), but the Disney vet only seemed to be interested in sanitizing the cult film, making it palatable to the masses.
And that leads to our final point. Who was Fox remaking Rocky Horror Picture Show for, exactly? While fans of Grease and The Sound of Music no doubt love those films dearly, Rocky Horror‘s status as a cult classic that’s connected with the outsider, the freak, the confused, has made its fans fiercely protective of the oddity that Richard O’Brien created. There was likely very little chance of pleasing them. And while casting Cox in the lead role is to be lauded for sure (more trans actors and actresses in everything, please!), the decision to turn Dr. Frank-N-Furter into a woman really scrubbed away the transgressive sexuality of the original.
While Tim Curry blurred the gender line, he was still a man building another man in his lab as a sex object. That was revolutionary. It was why Rocky Horror was relegated to cult-dom. (1975 was not ready for that.) And it’s why so many people connect with it so fiercely. Cox’s Frank was just a woman (an alien woman, yes, but still a pretty hetero idea of a woman) creating a man. Was it sexy? Sure. But the absence of the original’s thrilling queer energy was undeniably felt.
Everyone involved clearly had a blast. That’s the power of Rocky Horror. It’s a pity it just felt so damn unnecessary. Like poor Rocky himself, the sword of Damocles was hanging over Fox’s head with this one. And it dropped. Hard.
What did you think about Fox’s remake? Let us know in the comments below.