'The Wiz Live's Ratings Are In & Prove That Diversity Is The Key To Successful Television

NBC's latest live musical offering debuted on Thursday night, and The Wiz Live! has received some great ratings. The show brought in 11.5 million viewers, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Its 3.4 rating was higher than last year's Peter Pan Live!'s 2.3, though it didn't beat the first anomalous success of Sound of Music Live!, which received a 4.6. In addition to these promising numbers, The Wiz has received critical acclaim, with many citing it as the best live musical NBC has put out by a long shot. Many of the viewers also live-tweeted and responded on social media, which probably contributed to the show's high ratings. Unlike with other live musicals, people seemed to genuinely be enjoying it rather than hate watching.

The reason for this difference in viewership has more than a little to do with the fact that The Wiz is a politically important musical with an all-black cast. The first filmed version, based on the original musical, featured Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, and this time Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Uzo Aduba, and Common took the stage. It's a fun, and often silly, take on The Wizard of Oz, but it doesn't feel out of touch, like The Sound of Music or Peter Pan somewhat did. Feminista Jones, on Twitter, provided reminders of the political importance of the musical with contextualizing tweets under the hashtag #JonesingForTheWiz:

The Wiz, though I'm sure many families of many races watched it, was made with black viewers in mind and allowed the audience to see talented black performers retell a culturally significant story. It might have something to do with the success of Empire, the FOX show with a large black viewership and incredibly high ratings. It should be no surprise that a show with lots of black people draws in black viewers, but historically studios and networks have a tendency to ignore the minority populations that would love to see themselves represented on TV. It's only been very recently that this has started to change, slowly but surely, with shows like Empire, Fresh Off The Boat, and Jane The Virgin, as well as films like Straight Outta Compton.

There is another thing that sets The Wiz Live! apart. It's joyous. Yes, slave stories and depictions of historical hardship should be told, but such stories have been the main context in which black movie goers and TV watchers have been able to see themselves for years. The Wiz opens up a space of dancing and music, of joy and escape. As Wesley Morris beautifully wrote in The New York Times:

By 2015, the state of cultural blackness has evolved. We’re in another watershed in which there are dozens of black people, who also feel free, creating television and appearing on it. That’s the version of “The Wiz” that NBC aired on Thursday — a balmy celebration of what should be the natural order of things: black America, unoppressed. If not on the streets, then at least on TV. Of course, black lives matter. And so does black entertainment.

The fact that many people were angry about the show's all black cast shows how far there is still to go. But, in the meantime, we should enjoy this moment of celebration. Hopefully, the success of The Wiz Live! will help contribute to including more black culture, actors, and history in media, and convince studioheads that multifaceted representation isn't just the right thing to do — it's the smart thing to do.

Image: NBC