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Jennifer Lopez to star in NBC's 'Bye Bye Birdie': Is live element key to success?

Live musical productions have become popular over the past few years for NBC, and Fox has tried it out, too. Fox's recent pre-taped 'Rocky Horror' production, however, was less of a success.

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    Jennifer Lopez arrives at the 'Shades of Blue' FYC Event at Saban Media Center on June 9, 2016, in Los Angeles.
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NBC viewers will be saying hello to Conrad Birdie for the network’s next live musical, which will star Jennifer Lopez.

NBC has announced that its 2017 live musical production will be “Bye Bye Birdie,” which takes place during the 1950s and centers on an Elvis Presley-like singer visiting a small town in Ohio. Ms. Lopez is set to play Rosie, who is the secretary and girlfriend of musician Conrad Birdie’s manager, Albert.

NBC has made a tradition the past few years of airing a live musical production during the holidays, after garnering big ratings for its 2013 foray back into the medium, “The Sound of Music Live!” Last year’s “The Wiz Live!” also did well in the ratings, though no production since has yet topped “Music.” 

Recommended: The 25 best movie musicals of all time

NBC is set to air “Hairspray Live!,” which will star Maddie Baillio, Harvey Fierstein, and Ariana Grande, on Dec. 7.

The productions have been enough of a success that one other network has gotten in on it, with Fox airing “Grease: Live” earlier this year. The ratings for the production were also a success for the network. 

One recent stumble in the musical TV department suggests that viewers are most intrigued by the live aspect of these productions. 

On Oct. 20, Fox aired a remake of the musical “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” starring Laverne Cox. Unlike its production of “Grease” and the NBC productions, however, the show was pre-taped. 

Ratings were lower than they were for "Grease," which Tony Maglio of TheWrap attributed to the non-live aspect of the show.

“There was less incentive to tune in the same way,” Mr. Maglio wrote. 

However, Variety writer Oriana Schwindt thinks other factors contributed to the production’s lower ratings. 

“Unlike musicals like ‘Grease’ and ‘The Wiz,’ ‘Rocky Horror’ has a far more niche (if far more passionate) fan base,” Ms. Schwindt wrote.

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