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Spurned journo to Tonys: 'It's like kicking out a member of your family!'

July 22, 2009 | 12:05 pm

David Sheward, executive editor of Back Stage, is gobsmacked by the recent announcement that journalists will no longer be able to vote for the Tony Awards.

Tony Awards Journalists "It doesn't make sense," he adds. "The Tonys say they're doing this because journalists have a conflict of interest, but we actually have the least conflict of interest among all Tony groups. Most other voters — actors, producers, writers, directors — are affiliated with productions being voted on. But not us. Why toss out the only group of people who have no stake in any production and blame it on conflict of interest?

"We're valuable to the Tonys because we're more informed than many other voters. There's a contingent of out-of-town producers, for example, who vote and haven't seen all shows all year. We see everything."

Gold Derby believes the real reason that the Tonys are doing this is because they want to be more like the other showbiz peer-group awards — the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys, which do not permit journalists to vote

But Sheward is skeptical of that possibility too: "If you want to be like the Oscars, just come out and say so!"

The Tonys used to be just like the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys — they excluded journos from voting beginning with their launch in 1947, but they invited theater critics to come to their rescue in 1961 and they've been part of the family ever since. At that point Broadway was still buzzing with outrage over Ethel Merman ("Gypsy") losing best actress to Mary Martin ("The Sound of Music") at the previous Tonys. Till then, only the board of directors of the American Theatre Wing could decide nominees and winners, but in 1961, all wing members were permitted to vote on winners, and nominees were determined by a new committee comprised of a playwright, producer, director and two theater critics.

In 1964, the electorate deciding winners was expanded to include first- and second-night theater critics. A decade or so later the second-nighters were dropped, but, basically, it's safe to say that top Broadway critics have played a key role in Tony voting for nearly half a century.

Why ditch them now? Producers won't be saving on seat tickets, which must be given to all Tony voters. Critics get free tickets anyway.

The rationale remains a mystery. Gold Derby has requested an interview with American Theatre Wing Executive Director Howard Sherman, but he's not returned our call.

Photos: Playbill

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