How Grease: Live Proved a Systematic, Hydromatic, Ultramatic New Media Format

I remember watching Grease as a kid during the summer on TBS with my sister, both of us waiting impatiently for Olivia Newton John’s glamazon makeover at the end of the movie. Last night, Grease got a makeover in a new format that’s the ultimate realization of dual-screen viewing.

Grease: Live was neither a Broadway production nor a fully realized film. It landed somewhere in the middle – a highly choreographed homage to the 1978 movie with live theater logistics. But more than that, this version was a live social media event for its 12.2 million viewers.

Every outro to a commercial break included a reminder from host Mario Lopez (who also assumed the role of Bandstand host Vince Fontaine) to access behind-the-scenes footage on the Facebook page – a page that’s hand-jived its way to 7.5 million likes. Viewers were regularly reminded to tweet using the hashtag #GreaseLive. The hashtag trended throughout the live show and was on its way to 2 million tweets this morning.

Dual-screen viewing itself is not a new trend. Award shows and sporting events already unfold in two channels – primetime and social media. Live coverage is paired with mobile phone users’ live commentary. What was different about Grease: Live was that it was produced to foster this behavior in real time. While many shows have an active social media conversation, viewers still choose to DVR and watch at times other than the air date. But Grease: Live was constructed in such a way that part of the experience of watching was participating in the social conversation – not only with regular viewers like you and me, but with celebs like Anna Kendrick, James Cordon, Rebel Wilson and Neil Patrick Harris who added their commentary to the live conversation.

Grease: Live was carefully choreographed in every way from the sheer physical size of 14 sets that spanned 20 acres on the Warner Brothers lot, to the integration of multiple live studio audiences into the performance down to the “shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom” conclusion of a massive cast, crew, audience and carnival finale spectacular. But beyond the fancy footwork and innovative camera work, Grease: Live unfolded with the aim to draw the viewer into the performance and become part of it in the social media sphere. There was enough behind-the-scenes footage to convey the acrobatics of live TV – from actors piling onto golf carts to a look at quick-change costume construction.

With more live musical events in the pipeline (Hairspray! and Rocky Horror Picture Show), it will be interesting to see if they can also stage a production enticing enough to transcend the tube and truly create #mustseeTV. Will viewers be Hopelessly Devoted the next go around or merely Stranded at the Drive-In? Networks will certainly be hoping that Grease Lightning will strike twice.