With hours to go, the 2016 Tonys became a pitch-perfect tribute to Orlando

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Hosts and award winners have grappled with tragedy before, but rarely with so little time to process.

Weeks after September 11, 2001, when regular TV programming slowly returned to the airwaves, hosts like Jon Stewart, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres faced the unenviable dilemma of reintroducing comedy or entertainment shows to a still-devastated audience. What resulted were some of the most admired and heartfelt monologues in TV history — openings that were no doubt honed through many revisions over many painstaking days.

Last night, James Corden went on air as host of the "The 70th Annual Tony Awards" on CBS just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Not only was this first-time host expected to entertain as news of the event was still unfolding — as of this morning, police had released names of only about half of the 50 victims — he was doing so as the face of the theater community, with its deep and singular connection to the global LGBT community. 

Judging by the reaction online and in New York’s Beacon Theater, Corden rose to the occasion, setting the tone for a night that managed to simultaneously mourn and inspire, with the following pre-recorded statement:

"All around the world, people are trying to come to terms with the horrific events that took place in Orlando this morning. On behalf of the whole theater community and every person in this room, our hearts go out to all of those affected by that atrocity."

"All we can say is you are not on your own right now," he continued. "Your tragedy is our tragedy. Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win. Together, we have to make sure of that. Tonight’s show stands as a symbol and a celebration of that principle."

Later in the show, Lin-Manual Miranda, who took home the Tony for Best score for the night’s big winner, "Hamilton," captured the moment with a sonnet that was instantly celebrated across social media.

I'm not freestyling. I'm too old. I wrote you a sonnet, instead.

My wife's the reason anything gets done.
She nudges me towards promise by degrees.
She is a perfect symphony of one.
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.

We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they're finished songs and start to play.
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day

This show is proof that history remembers.
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall, and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.

And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love;
Cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa's symphony; Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.

Two other of the night’s winners, Jessica Lange and Frank Langella, also addressed the Orlando tragedy, as did Barbra Streisand, who presented the final award for Best Musical to "Hamilton."  And the entire ceremony, dedicated to the tragic event, tweeted the following:

Live awards shows on broadcast television have acknowledged tragic circumstances in the past. Legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite famously opened the Emmys Awards on CBS on Nov. 4, 2001, seven weeks late, by remembering the horrific events of 9/11. "In this public celebration in the best of television, this program has been altered considerably from its usual gala to accommodate that difficult melding for our deep grief for our losses, our concern for our safety, and, as the President suggested and out nation agreed, that life must go on in our American tradition," he said. "Edward R. Morrow, the great newscaster, once said of television: This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, it can inspire. But it can only to do to the extent that humans are determined to us it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box."

DeGeneres, who hosted that post-9/11 Emmy Awards" telecast, took a lighter approach by joking, "I feel like I am in a unique position as host because, think about it, what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews."

Corden wasn't the only host dealing with the tragedy Sunday night. HBO's John Oliver opened his show with a short monologue acknowledging the events, then introduced his "stupid" show. 

Lifted at least in part by the incredible popularity of "Hamilton," this year's show was the most-watched Tonys telecast in 15 years, according to the overnight ratings. Based on the 56 cities measured by Nielsen in the metered markets, the telecast rose to a 6.8 rating/11 share in households. That’s 33% above the 5.1/ 8 for the last year’s telecast, which translated into 6.46 million viewers and a 1.0 rating/3 share in adults 18-49, based on the Live + Same Day data. Results for last night’s telecast are expected in near 8.60 million viewers. The prior high in recent years was 7.43 million viewers in 2009. The adult 18-49 rating could fall within the mid-1 rating range.


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