Comcast will include a national video description pilot program with NBC’s broadcast of the hit Broadway musical The Wiz Live! on December 3, making it the first live entertainment program in U.S. history to be accessible to people who have a visual disability. Video description is a narration track that is included between the natural pauses in dialogue that describes the visual elements of a show or movie like facial expressions, settings, costumes and stage direction.
“Comcast’s commitment to include video description with the performance of The Wiz Live! is ground-breaking,” said Kim Charlson, President of The American Council of the Blind (ACB). “The path to accessibility is a journey of inclusion of all audiences. Just like the yellow brick road is the path to the heartfelt wishes of Dorothy and her friends, the blindness community is very happy to travel on this new path with Comcast and NBC.”
The described broadcast of The Wiz Live! is a national pilot program that is available across the country, wherever SAP (Secondary Audio Program) audio feeds are available. To deliver the service, Comcast and NBC are partnering with Descriptive Video Works, an industry leader in the delivery of quality described video and audio description for people with a visual disability. The company has provided more than 1,000 hours of Live Description, including the Olympics, Paralympics, and the Royal Wedding.
In addition to providing accessible content like The Wiz Live!, Comcast also has developed technologies that help people with disabilities enjoy entertainment independently. For example, customers who have the company’s X1 platform now have access to a talking guide, a voice-enabled TV menu and interface, and a voice controlled TV remote control, a device that simplifies the search process.
“The combination of accessible content and technology is powerful,” said Tom Wlodkowski, Comcast’s Vice President of Accessibility. “We’re working hard every day to make a positive impact in the lives of millions of customers by making our products and services more accessible and opening new doors to independence for people with disabilities. The broadcast of The Wiz Live! represents a real milestone in how people with visual impairments experience television.”
“Earlier this year, I attended a theater production of The Wiz and without description, found it very difficult to follow the characters and action of the play,” said Carl Augusto, CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind. “This nationally described television broadcast will not only be a godsend to people with vision loss, but also to those who describe action to people with vision loss, and the general public, who will learn about the importance of audio description.”
The Wiz Live! is adapted from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, with a book by William F. Brown, and music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls. The production opened on Broadway in 1975 at the Majestic Theatre and won seven Tonys, including best musical.
The Wiz Live! stars Queen Latifah (The Wiz), Mary J. Blige (Evillene), Shanice Williams (Dorothy), David Alan Grier (Cowardly Lion), NE-YO (Tin Man), Elijah Kelley (Scarecrow), Amber Riley (Addaperle), Stephanie Mills (Auntie Em), Uzo Aduba (Glinda) and Common (The Gatekeeper).
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (“The Sound of Music Live!,” “Peter Pan Live!,” Oscar-winning “Chicago”) will executive produce. Kenny Leon (Tony winner, “A Raisin in the Sun”) is stage director and Matthew Diamond is TV director, with Harvey Fierstein (three-time Tony winner, “Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray” and “La Cage aux Folles”) providing new written material.
Esteemed choreographer Fatima Robinson (“Dreamgirls,” “Ali”) is also on board, along with music producer Harvey Mason Jr. (“Dreamgirls, “Pitch Perfect 2”) and Stephen Oremus (“The Book of Mormon,” “Kinky Boots”) as music director, orchestrator and co-producer of the music.
“The Wiz Live!” is produced by Universal Television in association with Cirque Du Soleil Theatrical.
The Wiz Live! premieres Thursday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET. December 3 is also the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.