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'Sound of Music' hit a high note for family entertainment

How do you solve a problem like family-friendly media? With a little help from Maria.

NBC's ambitious live broadcast of the 1959 classic "The Sound of Music" captured audiences across the nation with a three-hour performance that topped the ratings charts.

Promoted by leading lady Carrie Underwood as family-friendly entertainment, "The Sound of Music Live!" brought families together in front of the tube.

"It's a family event — it's something that everyone can sit down and watch together," Underwood said in an NBC sound clip.

“ ‘The Sound of Music Live!' dominated the night with NBC’s best non-sports Thursday average in adults 18-49 since the night of the 'ER' finale in 2009, and total viewers since the 'Frasier' finale in 2004," according to a press release from NBC.

"The Sound of Music Live!" was ranked No. 1 in prime time in all 56 metered markets. The holiday event raked in 18.5 million viewers overall, The Wrap reported.

While the quality of the broadcast faced mixed reviews from critics and viewers alike, the number of Americans tuning into one of the most beloved musicals spoke for itself about the success of the endeavour — the first live-staged musical in 50 years.

"Some reviews were unkind — 'deer in the headlights,' wrote The Associated Press about Carrie Underwood starring in NBC's live staging of 'The Sound of Music' — but local ratings suggested viewers were hungry for family entertainment during the holiday season," reported the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee.

The Washington Post reported that overall the live broadcast worked — sort of.

"Despite some strange lighting choices reminiscent of old soap operas that turned everything either a shade of scented candle or backyard compost and a weird sonic hiss that only amplified awkward gaps in spoken dialogue, much of it worked out okay," according to the article.

And while praised for her singing, the American Idol-winning, country-singing pop star's acting left many audiences feeling cold.

"She simply is not an actress, at least not at this point, and her entire performance had the sense of remove that comes from the constant awareness that one is experiencing carefully considered line readings," NPR reported.

In fact, it was the dialogue that suffered the most ridicule.

The Washington Post also weighed in, reporting that Underwood was "as flat as the label on a Swiss Miss package of cocoa," when she delivered her lines.

"But she wasn’t alone — others who ostensibly have more acting experience, especially 'True Blood’s' Stephen Moyer in the role of Captain von Trapp, struggled with a format that is all but alien to today’s TV," the Washington Post reported.

An article in The Daily Beast raises the debate: are we comparing apples to oranges?

"The truth is that millions of people tuned in Thursday night to compare Underwood to (Julie) Andrews and then throw her off an Alps cliff when she didn't measure up. Underwood's performance, however, really just underlined what a tricky role Maria is to pull off, and how astounding it is that Andrews managed to do it," the article reported.

In light of the criticism, however, the family event was recognized for its massive undertaking.

"Though she was nowhere near perfect, one country singer with an extra-large Heidi braid had enough energy to make up for that. It's the least we can do to drop any cynicism over the project and harsh reaction to the execution of it and appreciate the huge gamble and undertaking it was to reanimate those mountains, and how fun it was to — even without Julie Andrews and even if it was kind of a mess — be twirling on them again," The Daily Beast reported.

Email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com Twitter: emmiliewhitlock