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The Fourth Wall: O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A on TV? It's unlikely to be the old song and dance

Every so often, you read about a project that’s (to use the technical term) in development and you think to yourself ... “Wait, did they just throw slips of paper with titles, genres and settings into a hat and pick them out at random?”

The latest example? “Oklahoma!” ... the television series.

Goodness knows, the surrey with the fringe on top has taken its share of spins around the block in recent years.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival staged its gender-bending adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic for the 2018 season, and a current Broadway revival turns the wind sweepin’ down the plain into a tornado of dark and twisted emotions.

And when we say ... (we’ll be right back after this commercial message)

Four men in hot pink spandex dance upon the screen while singing

“Nausea, heartburn, indigestion,

upset stomach, diarrhea”

Yeeow-yip-i-o-ee-ay!

Well, that might be a bit much for you and your honey lamb to take.

From what I’ve been able to glean after an exhaustive five-minute internet search, this new version of “Oklahoma!” will be set in the present day (so, scratch the “honey lamb”), but will be inspired by the musical’s storyline.

And yes, the characters will break into song.

In recent years, the broadcast networks have staged one-night-only productions of musicals that have ranged from the stellar (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Grease”) to the ... ummm ... well, they tried (“The Sound of Music”) as a window into the world of the Broadway musical.

Network television has never known quite what to do with songs. For every series that set their drama inside the music industry — such as the current “Star!” (what is it with the exclamation points) and “Empire” to the recent “Nashville” and even the now-ancient simplicity of “The Partridge Family” — there have been others that go (to use the technical term) high concept and attempt to have characters break into singing in the midst of a dramatic moment.

More often than not, you wind up with “Viva Laughlin” — which lasted two episodes back in 2007 and starred a devilish Hugh Jackman as a nasty piece of work casino owner.

Or the classic failure “Cop Rock” — which lasted 11 episodes back in 1990, and had everyone from the cops on the beat to the judge, jury and defendants stopping to sing and dance while facing life-or-death moments.

Trust me, you really haven’t experienced all TV has to offer until you’ve seen the performance of the toe-tapping ditty “Baby Merchant” — wherein the titular crook tries to sell a recently kidnapped infant to a pair of undercover detectives.

“I’m the Baby Merchant

Tots-R-Us!

I give you all the service

And no damn fuss

Give the Baby Merchant

Just a week or two

I’ll have your baby for you!”

This is not to say that melding music into a TV series ... wait, did he just sing “Tots-R-US”? (excuse me while I shiver) ... can’t be done successfully.

Those songs (or at least the spirit and tone of those numbers) don’t seem a natural fit for a series set in the present day — where the surrey could be a Tesla and “I Cain’t Say No” would be as socially out-of-step as a song could get when set in a modern context ... even in Oklahoma.

“Ally McBeal” used musical numbers successfully as commentary about what was happening in the show. The protagonist of “Eli Stone” had a brain impairment that found him imagining George Michael providing the soundtrack to his life.

Other series — from the Scooby Gang demon hunters of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to the hospital staff of the medical comedy “Scrubs” to the darker-than-dark prison drama “Oz” — have given their casts moments to flex their musical muscles.

And while “Smash” tried to have the best of both worlds by basing its series around the development of a Broadway show (by the way, that show within the show ... “Bombshell” about Marilyn Monroe ... has been developed into an actual musical that is headed to Broadway), the series that might have displayed the best combination of genres was the recently concluded “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” — which worked precisely because it thought of itself as a musical-comedy disguised as a television show.

And, of course, several TV series — everything from “The Honeymooners” to “The Addams Family” — have taken the opposite track and gone on to a stage production. The aforementioned “Nashville” is in development, while “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical” was nominated for a dozen Tony Awards.

In recent years, the broadcast networks have staged one-night-only productions of musicals that have ranged from the stellar (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Grease”) to the ... ummm ... well, they tried (“The Sound of Music”) as a window into the world of the Broadway musical.

But taking an American classic such as “Oklahoma!” and (to use the technical term) reimagining it seems like a pointless exercise.

Audiences go to the theater to see “Oklahoma!” and expect, if nothing else, to hear classic songs — regardless of how those in charge of the production have spun the storyline.

Those songs (or at least the spirit and tone of those numbers) don’t seem a natural fit for a series set in the present day — where the surrey could be a Tesla and “I Cain’t Say No” would be as socially out-of-step as a song could get when set in a modern context ... even in Oklahoma.

Of course, all this could be for naught. There are more than a few technical-term hurdles to clear before “Oklahoma! The TV Series” makes its way to a small screen near your recliner.

The best we can hope is that, should it come to fruition, the song that we most remember isn’t from the Pepto Bismol commercial.

Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com ... since he won’t be attending any of the 174 showings of “Avengers: Endgame” this weekend at Rogue Valley theaters.

Robert Galvin