Friday, March 20, 2009

Speed The Plow & Jeremy Piven

Last December, Jeremy Piven abruptly quit the Broadway production of Speed The Plow, citing mercury poisoning. It's been widely assumed by many (including myself) that Piven was just looking to get out of his contract. The details of his story never added up.

The Speed The Plow producers reacted brilliantly, finding great replacements and making snarky comments about Piven to the media. My favorite was playwright David Mament's line, "I talked to Jeremy on the phone, and he told me that he discovered that he had a very high level of mercury. So my understanding is that he is leaving show business to pursue a career as a thermometer."

Now, the producers plan to file for arbitration against Piven for his early departure. The production did recoup it's investment.

Below is a chart showing blog trends of American Buffalo (In Blue) and Speed The Plow (Orange), they both played on Broadway at the same time. The blue line gives you an idea of the press attention a typical Broadway play can expect, the orange is irregular.

You see that huge orange spike in mid-December? That's everyone talking about Piven leaving the show. You see that spike in late October? That's the show's Broadway opening, organized by marketing, advertising, and publicity experts.

It's clear that Piven leaving the show was a larger story than Piven doing the show. You can't buy that kind of publicity. I'd cast Piven in anything I produce, as long as he promises not to finish the run.


  1. Publicity doesn't necessarily equal ticket sales. "Speed-The-Plow" was on its way to recouping with Piven in it. In fact, it probably would have even recouped faster. It's one thing to be interested in the story when you read about it on Gawker, it's another to read about it and then rush to see Norbert Leo Butz reading from a script onstage. The latter didn't happen all that much. I think it'd be more interesting to compare your graph with box-office receipts. Nonetheless, I'm glad they recouped. The show was delightful and Esparza might finally pick up his much deserved Tony award.

  2. Sure, press doesn't equal ticket sales - but it's an indication of cultural relevance. That's something all producers should strive for.

  3. I gotta agree with SigLNY... that publicity did not translate into the same kind of ticket sales as before his departure. While publicity is nice, money is nicer. Making the money back is great, but making more money back is greater. Sigh. Not to mention-- legal costs.

  4. I think it would be disingenuous to suggest that the situation couldn't have been managed better to sell more tickets.

    We're talking about a major bump, double the media of opening night. This isn't just a Gawker post or two as SiglNY suggests.