Sunday, October 30, 2011

Some Thoughts About The Opry On GAC

During the month of October, GAC (Great American Country) and the Opry came to an agreement to televise a few of the Opry's shows. The shows were a combination of Tuesday night shows that were taped and shown later, and a couple of Saturday night shows that were shown live. These were the first new Opry shows to be televised since the September 2010 reopening of the Grand Ole Opry House, and prior to that it had been several years since the Opry had been televised.

In the opinion of this writer and Opry fan, the shows that were shown were, in a word, horrible. The shows featured a variety of artists, a few of whom such as Martina McBride, Craig Morgan, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley and Randy Travis, were actually Opry members. The rest were not.

The recent history of the Opry on television started in the mid 1980s when TNN decided to televise a half hour of the Opry on Saturday night. Nothing special was done. The show stayed the same and whoever was scheduled on that half hour were the ones shown on the televised show. In fact, it was nothing more than putting up a camera or two and televising the radio show. The show usually started on time, although there were weeks when the segment proceeding the televised portion ran long and they had to kill some time before the segment started, and almost every week, the final performer was still singing as the credits ran on the screen. In other words, it was not scripted or polished. Those who appeared on the televised segment included just about everyone who was an Opry member. The rotation of hosts and guests was good and in a 6 month period, everyone usually got on once or twice. Sometimes the half hour had a host and 2 guests, and other weeks, there was a host and 4 guests. It just varied and you never knew who was going to be on until the show started. No pre-publicity of the show.

Over time, a half hour interview show was added that featured that night's artists. For special events, such as the Opry's birthday celebration, a whole hour of the Opry would be shown. Same formula and nothing extra special.

Eventually, the Opry moved to CMT and became an hour long show each week. And with it, the Opry management started to lose control of the show and the professionalism started to set in. The rotation of hosts became smaller and included only those who had a good tv presence. (no more Bill Monroes or Hank Snows), and the number of Opry members who were on the televised portion were picked from a smaller group, again featuring those with TV presence. And, there became more of an emphasis on guest artists promoting new material.

When CMT no longer showed an interest in the Opry, the Opry was forced to find a new marriage partner for television and the only network that came knocking was GAC. And with it, all control for the televised portion was lost. At first, Opry members continued to host the televised hour, but that eventually went away and the host became Nan Kelly, a professional announcer. The number of artists on the hour show went from 6 or 7, down to 5, and then to 4, with some weeks 3. The production became polished, and if you were in the Opry House watching the show, it felt like you were attending a tv taping. And, of the Opry's 65 or so members, only around 10 were actually shown on the show. The rest were guest artists, all young and "sexy" looking.

And that brings us to where we are now. A 1 hour show, that features either 3 or 4 artists, all singing numerous songs, with fancy lighting and large scale production values. The shows are all pre-scripted and rehearsed. The shows start and end right on time, down to the last second. And, there are many more commercials. If you are sitting in the Opry House during a televised show, you get lots of the Opry Staff Band, as that is who is playing on stage during all the commerical breaks.

Over time, most of us have gotten used to this and are happy that at least something from the Opry was televised. It really wasn't the Opry as such, but it was the best we were going to get. And that brings me to the shows this October. For whatever reason, the shows just didn't seem right, especially the birthday show. The timing was off, the camera shots were not real good, Nan Kelly seemed off her game, and I don't think some of the guest artists realized that they were on the Opry. I think they thought they were just at another television taping. In other words, the shows were terrible and tough to watch.

If you were sitting in the Opry House, it was even worse. As it is right now, the Opry is 2 hours in length. On a night when the Opry is televised, the 1st hour actually seems like the Opry. The show is good and moves at a good pace. There is about a 5 minute gap between the 1st and 2nd hours, which gives GAC time to make sure they get started right on time, the chance to get the cameras and lighting right and to make sure the artist and band is in place and ready to go. And, it gives the veteran Opry members time to get backstage to their dressing rooms so that they will not be accidently seen on television. Heaven help GAC if they show someone who is under the age of 40 on the televised show.

When you are in the Opry House, it seems like you are watching 2 separate shows. During the televised portion, the lights are turned up, the sound is louder and you are actually told when to clap and stand. And, it just seems so disconnected from the 1st hour that it doesn't seem like the Opry. When the televised portion is over, that is it. The show is over, right on time, and you are headed out the door. It turns the Saturday show into a mess.

I know the Opry needs televison to sell the product and to attract interest. And I know they want to keep it young as they want to attract younger fans to the Opry. And I know GAC has final control on who is on the televised portion and they want artists that they can promote and who will attract ratings.

So here is my idea and I think it would work. Leave the Saturday show alone. Management has messed it up already. Just leave it as the traditional Opry as we know it. Take the Tuesday night Opry, that has the different format, and tape the last hour and make that the televised show. It can still be shown on the network on Saturday. By taping the show on Tuesday night, it can be edited for televison and look better. The Tuesday Night Opry has been attracting some of the bigger named artists, as many are on the road over the weekend. And since the traditional Opry fan does not tend to go to the Tuesday night shows, they are not upsetting their traditional audience.

Of course a better idea would be to somehow come to a deal with RFD-TV as the Opry would be a perfect fit for their Saturday night line up with Marty Stuart and Midwest Country, along with their other shows. RFD has the traditional audience that grew up to and listens to the Opry. And, with RFD having an emphasis on traditional country music, we could see more of the veteran Opry members. I don't know if RFD has shown an interest in televising the Opry or if they did attempt a deal and could not make one or maybe they are happy with what they have and don't want to televise the Opry. But, if I were RFD, I would certainly explore the idea of televising the Opry. I think they would do a great job with the product and I think they would do it right.

That is just my thoughts.


  1. Bravo! I'd add that, here in Las Vegas, we don't get RFD-TV but we do get GAC. Yet I'd rather have RFD, and I NEVER watch GAC, and that includes when it televises what it mistakenly calls the Opry.

  2. I second Fayfare's motion.
    Previous posts by me have mentioned how awful the 'Opry sounds on the radio when GAC is in town.
    My own opinion is that GAC should accept the 'Opry the way it is, leave it alone, and let it roll.
    Foks who see the 'Opry on GAC are not going to recognize it when they come to the real show.

  3. Fred in Bismarck here:

    Good summary, Byron. Yes, wouldn't it be nice if we could go back to the innocent early days of TNN and the occasional PBS coverage (during donation drives)? When the Opry was thought to be a sufficient attraction to televise as it was?

    A subversive thought: Maybe the Opry changed first -- to the point that the meddlers were emboldened. Too many of the old heroes gone, and those who were left getting just too long in the tooth. Certainly most of the Saturday night lineups these last few years make poor radio fare, never mind TV.