Fox Head Honcho Defends Rent Live Not Having Understudies

Rent Live Brennin Hunt Roger Davis Fox
(Image credit: FOX)

The head honcho at Fox has defended the decision not to use understudies for Rent: Live, a decision that took the spotlight when Rent’s Brennin Hunt was unable to perform live due to a broken foot he incurred during rehearsals for the event TV program. Thus, Rent: Live did not actually air “live.” Defending the choice not to utilize understudies, Fox’s President, Charlie Collier said that it wasn't "impossible" to include understudies, but it was "impractical," presumably for budggeting purposes. He said:

Well, you said ‘impossible.’ I didn’t say ‘impossible.’ I think I said ‘impractical.’ First of all, every Broadway show is a long run, and this is really building to one weekend. What’s remarkable about this production and I don’t know how many of you were in the room either on Saturday or Sunday it’s a pretty magical thing, not just the choreography that comes with a normal Broadway play but the choreography of the production that goes around it. And the decisions they made not just before the accident, but actually to sustain, and then end live the way we did, I think was the right decision.

There you have it. Fox’s President was asked directly about what ended up being Rent: Live’s understudy controversy at the TCA Winter Press Tour and he gave a relatively candid answer in regards to what happened and the network's reasoning behind not signing on understudies in the beginning. Then, after Brennin Hunt was injured, it was announced shortly before the show was set to air the pre-taped dress rehearsals would mostly be aired instead.

Despite his injury, Brennin Hunt did perform “Your Eyes” live, and the ensuing finale was also live. Still, many viewers who were looking forward to tuning in for an entirely live show questioned why Fox did not prepare for such an unfortunate event by employing understudies. Traditionally, another actor learns all of the choreography, dialogue, songs, etc., in case a terrible emergency such as Hunt’s occurs. They then step in for the injured or unavailable cast member when showtime arrives. Understudies are common in Broadway productions, but those runs generally last much longer than a one-off production.

To prepare for injuries or anything of an unforeseen nature, Fox used the footage taped from dress rehearsal to stand in. Some have argued that using that is different from the final production and takes away from the live component mentioned in the Rent: Live title. They assert that without the electric backdrop of being on live national television, it is not the peak version of the show. However, the cast was reportedly aware the dress rehearsal version could be the one used, so it's likely they were giving their all in the taped performances along with the live ones.

Based on what the network’s president is saying, Fox is unlikely to change anything about not employing understudies. It stands to reason that having them would be an extra cost that goes into production. Without them, it helps keep the budget lower than it would be otherwise.

Regarding the elaborate production, Fox’s President comments echo that of Rent: Live’s production designer, Jason Sherwood. He explained why the show could not be altered to accommodate Brennin Hunt’s injury for a fully live performance. Sherwood pointed out the degree of pain Hunt was in, as well as how difficult it would have been to restage the show on such short notice.

Kudos to the cast for performing what they did live and in the midst of everything that went on beforehand. That had to be a difficult task. It is commendable that they pushed through to give viewers a live finale. The show must go on, and it did.

Rent: Live was part of the new programming arriving throughout the midseason on Fox. In case you missed it when it initially aired and want to check it out, Rent: Live is now streaming on Hulu.

Britt Lawrence

Like a contented Hallmark movie character, Britt happily lives in the same city she grew up in. Along with movies and television, she is passionate about competitive figure skating. She has been writing about entertainment for 5 years, and as you may suspect, still finds it as entertaining to do as when she began.