There's no doubt about it that Thursday night's performance of "The Wiz Live!" on NBC is going to be an event to remember -- after all, so many people watched and live-tweeted the last two musicals, "The Sound Of Music" and "Peter Pan," and this one's got Mary J. Blige in it.
If you're one of the 21 million visually impaired people (or the 1.3 million people who've been declared legally blind) currently living in the United States, however, normally you'd miss out on all the fun of a live television event like this. After all, how are you supposed to participate in a conversation or get any enjoyment out of a fabulous costume someone's wearing or a weird facial expression they make if you can't actually tell that it's happening in the first place?
Fortunately all that's about to change, at least as far as "The Wiz" is concerned. Yesterday afternoon (December 1), Comcast announced a partnership between NBC and Descriptive Video Works, a Canadian-based service that writes and recites narrative tracks to accompany TV broadcasts, to bring audio description to their "Wiz" broadcast as it airs. A narrator will be on hand live in studio to provide audio description for the star-studded musical as it's being performed. The timing is especially apt considering that "The Wiz Live" premieres on December 3, which is also the United Nation's International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Descriptive Video Works regularly collaborates with all kinds of different live and scripted broadcasts in Canada, including everything from the Olympics to the British Royal Wedding. However, this is the very first time a live TV entertainment program being broadcast in the U.S. will be accompanied by a live description, and with any luck it won't be the last.
"It's a real skill to be able to do audio description because you have to find out what's the most important thing to say, because you have such limited time," Diane Johnson, CEO and president of Descriptive Video Works told MTV News over the phone. The video description provided by their trained performers often gives visually impaired viewers a much fuller experience than having a show described by a friend or family member would. "What you and I might say in three sentences, they might have to put into three words because you don't want to step on the dialogue."
And, of course, Descriptive Video Works is more than capable of navigating around the musical aspects of the show as well.
"With live description, it's also really important to listen to the music," Johnson added. "You look at a show like 'The Wiz,' and it's such a phenomenal show and the music is amazing. So if it wasn't done properly, you would hear somebody stepping on the music and you don't want to do that. But most of the time you really have to respect the music."
The narration track will be available where Secondary Audio Program (SAP) audio feeds are available. And even if you don't need it to follow along with the show, it might be worth giving a listen just to see what it's like!