NEW YORK (AP) — The wild popularity of "Hamilton" on Broadway translated into huge bump in ratings for the Tony Awards — the CBS' telecast on Sunday beat last year's audience by more than 2 million viewers.
The broadcast drew 8.73 million viewers, up 35 percent from last year, according to preliminary ratings from the Nielsen Co. It is the largest audience for the show since 2001, the year "The Producers" won a record 12 Tonys.
Oscar- and Tony-winning producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, whose work encompasses film, television and theater, said they were impressed with how the show managed to acknowledge the tragedy in Florida and yet keep people entertained.
The show in New York came only hours after a gunman opened fire on patrons at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, prompting Broadway performers to rush to embrace the LGBT community and leaving the show under a grim shadow.
"I thought they handled it with incredible grace, with being the epitome of what show business is about," said Meron. "They were sending a message that the art of what this country does will not be stopped and that art can send a message — be entertaining yet underlined with a powerful message."
Host James Corden, spoke directly to the camera when he dedicated the night to celebrating the diversity of Broadway. "Hate will never win. Together we have to make sure of that. Tonight's show stands as a symbol and a celebration of that principle," he said.
The shooting threatened to put a damper on the victory lap for "Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop-flavored biography about the first U.S. treasury secretary. Some performers made reference to the Florida carnage on their acceptance speeches.
Meron compared Corden's task as akin to Ellen DeGeneres role as host of the Emmy Awards right after 9/11. "She managed to infuse the show with humor without forgetting the tragedy," he said. "She really showed the defiance of the art we all do and how important it is to keep on moving forward."
Zadan and Meron know how hard big live events on TV can be, having produced the Oscarcast as well as live TV theatrical events including "The Wiz Live!" and "Peter Pan Live!"
Zadan was impressed by Corden and knew he'd be funny and charming. "You just knew he was going to turn out to be a good host. But he really didn't overstay his welcome. He handled himself really beautifully. And he fit in really perfectly," said Zadan. "He did something I've never seen anybody do on the Tonys: He created a pacing for the show that flew by."
The ratings leap was even more pronounced in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic, with that rating notching a 60 percent increase from 2015.
Last year's telecast — hosted by Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth — was watched by 6.46 million viewers. In 2014, it reached 7.02 million and captured 7.24 million in 2013.
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits