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Kelly Kessler Examines Impact of Musicals on Television

Kessler Signed by the Author
(DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical

By: Kelly Kessler, College of Communication

"Broadway in the Box" shines a television-centric light on the cross-industry presence of a seminal American art form as it works to unearth, explore and analyze pockets of more than 70 years of programming, which embraced and satirized the musical in its various forms. Some such small screen moments took the form of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman’s battling duet on 1953's Ford 50th Anniversary, decades of Broadway on The Ed Sullivan Show, 11 seasons of musical celebrations on The Carol Burnett Show, Fame, Cop Rock, and the resurgence of live television musicals in the 2010s. In the end, Broadway has always been in the box; someone just needed to plug it in to see what was on.

What's the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

Broadway in the Box: Television's Lasting Love Affair with the Musical
(Image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

If you put yourself out there, you might just discover how gracious people can be. I sent a snail mail letter to Carol Burnett asking for an interview. This television legend called me, without warning, on a random Sunday afternoon while I was tending to a sick kid, and then agreed to call me back after I cleaned up said kid, had a few minutes to prep, and managed to get my head on straight. It resulted in a 45-minute interview of a lifetime with a musical comedy icon, and to top it all off, she laughed at my jokes.

Persuade someone to read your book in less than 50 words:

Aside from rediscovering decades of musical television lost to the ages, you’ll find some serious weirdness and splendor: stories of Bob Mackie's dealings with Cher's televised navel, Muhammad Ali's stint on Broadway, Rachel Bloom’s sci-fi-Britney Spears YouTube sexcapade, and a 70-year explosion of small screen spectacle.

About the author:

Kelly Kessler is an associate professor of media and cinema studies in DePaul's College of Communication. Her research engages with issues of gender, sexuality and genre in American television and film. She also is the author "Destabilizing the Hollywood Musical: Music, Masculinity, and Mayhem." A recent OpEd Project Fellow, her public scholarship - ranging from Hamilton's TV premiere to missing queer and liberal voices in the politicization of religion - have recently appeared on sites like Primetimer, The Advocate, and Wired.

Publisher, release date, length:

Oxford University Press, May 2020, 336 pages

Originally published on DePaul Newsline.