Aaron Sorkin and the Broadcast of Live Theater

You want him on that fourth wall. You need him on that fourth wall.

Columbia TriStar

There have been rumors about it since 2014. And now, it’s confirmed: Aaron Sorkin will adapt A Few Good Men, his stage play-turned-Oscar-winning-feature film, into a live event. It’s currently set to air on NBC in 2017. Start prepping your “I want the TRUTH!” jokes now.

The new Good Men will mark Sorkin’s first return to NBC since his time on The West Wing, The Hollywood Reporter notes. (Sorkin will write the teleplay adaptation—based on his original stage version—and he’ll also help to executive-produce the event overall.)

What the show will also mark, though, is a new era for the Live Televised Event, which has traditionally—at NBC, as at other networks—involved musicals. Peter Pan Live! The Wiz Live! Grease Live! It’s hard to imagine that the latest entry into the growing televised-theater genre will be named A Few Good Men Live!—not only because the name has probably been claimed, already, by a whimsical Vegas revue, but also because Sorkin’s play will not, like its predecessors, be a musical. It will be live, but not, alas, Live!

In that sense, you could look at A Few Good Men Live, soberly lacking in exclamatory embellishment, as a sign that we’re moving into an age that doesn’t need to rely on the antics of the musical to sell its properties. A Few Good Men, as a stage play and a film, is a perfectly serviceable military-legal drama. It has attained a broader cultural status by way of Internet imps and their “you can’t handle the truth!” memes. Its live-broadcast adaptation will likely be, like its predecessors, witty and electric and nuanced and dramatic and all the things that a good Sorkin production will be. It will not, however, feature jazz hands.

Instead, Sorkin and his fellow creators will be relying on something more subtle as their sell: the kinetic energy of live theater. The subtleties of expression and emotion between actors. The sense that anything could happen at any moment, from the deliciously disastrous to the artistically sublime. And the creators will also be relying, of course, on a live audience that will simultaneously be watching and tweeting and otherwise consuming and reacting to their work. In any live event, televised or not, there is an implied fourth wall: a sense of audience inclusion. A Few Good Men—a play, a movie, a beloved meme—will, as it were, stand guard on that wall.

In that sense, A Few Good Men suggests a new iteration of the Live TV Event: the normalization of it. The idea that anything—not just a dance-happy, sing-song-y musical—can benefit from the live-broadcast treatment. Certainly, networks (and NBC, in particular) have experimented with live TV in the past. Awards shows, live reality-TV finales, gimmicky live broadcasts of sitcoms—the recent versions have been, among other things, attempts to reclaim the commercial benefits of “appointment television” in the era of streaming and cord-cutting. A Few Good Men will be that, too. But it will also suggest a new twist on the old formula: a live production that sees live-ness itself as a selling point. No jazz hands, or exclamation points, necessary.