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KEN EHRLICH: TRAVELIN’ MAN

Interview by Phil Gallo

Immediately after Ken Ehrlich wrapped production on the Global Citizen concert in Central Park—the 9/23 show during which Stevie Wonder famously took a knee onstage—he started flying around the country to talk Grammys

He returned home to talk to Dave Grohl, flew back to New York to interview Justin Timberlake and then jetted to Boston to sit down with Bruno Mars. He visited Carrie Underwood in Nashville and, on his way home to L.A., stopped in Las Vegas to get Elton John’s recollections about the Grammy Award.

The result of Ehrlich’s interviews is Grammys Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special, which will air 11/24 on CBS, four days before nominations are announced for the 60th annual Grammy Awards.

“I spent an hour with Dave Grohl, who is one of the great interviews because he knows [his history]—that it didn’t start with Portugal. The Man and Chance the Rapper,” says Ehrlich, the Grammy producer for the last 38 years. “I love when I’m able to sit with people and do that.”

Ehrlich got a kick out of doing those interviews. After producing the Grammys telecasts for nearly four decades, he has a good sense of what stands out in a performance, and to hear the artists tell him he provided a platform for a career highlight was especially gratifying.

“Maybe it’s because I’m sitting across from them,” he says, singling out P!nk, who talked about her acrobatic performance of “Glitter in the Air” in 2010, and Melissa Etheridge, who delivered a powerful performance of “Piece of My Heart” at the 2005 show after going through breast cancer treatment, as two of the eight or nine artists who spoke glowingly of their Grammy experience.

“That’s what we strive for,” Ehrlich says. “Not every performance is going to be remembered five years from now, but when they feel right, they say more, and people enjoy them more. And they remember those.”

For now, Ehrlich is targeting artists likely to receive nominations and calling their reps to check on availability. He hopes to have seven or eight performers lined up before the entertainment world starts disappearing in mid-December.

“The show is two weeks earlier,” he says of the 1/28 event, discounting any extra time he gains on the front end. “We won’t book 70% of the show until after the first of the year.”

What he is sure of, though, is the direction this year’s telecast will take. It will obviously celebrate the year in music and honor musicians who died, but it will also celebrate 60 years of handing out gramophone trophies and the city of New York.

“In the olden days,” says Ehrlich, “a network executive would ask me every year, ‘What’s the theme?’ and I’d say ‘Music’ and he wouldn’t like that answer. There is no year where we said, ‘Today, it’s about blah-blah-blah.’

“But because it’s been so long since we’ve been in New York, and so much of the music business is in New York, it presents new opportunities that we can combine with the 60th anniversary. We plan to try to weave those two stories into the show without them taking over the show.”

He says most of his usual crew is back for the ceremony: Louis J. Horvitz, a master of awards and variety shows, is again directing, while Chantel Sausedo is booking it and David Wild is the writer.

Then there are the challenges…and the costs. The room for staging the show is smaller than it was in 2003, the last time they presented the Grammys there. 

“The union costs are significantly higher,” Ehrlich says. “Stage hands and other locals. Set construction is higher. Hotels are higher. But it’s a great building that has terrific facilities that have been upgraded a lot. It definitely presents challenges, but the challenges are offset by the fact that there’s going to be a buzz.”


Will an artist dominate the way Norah Jones did at the last Grammy ceremony staged in New York? Will anyone try anything as outlandish as a shirtless knucklehead with “Soy Bomb” painted on his torso did in 1998 when he jumped onstage while Bob Dylan was playing?

“The additional stress of putting on a show in the cold adds a degree of difficulty and danger to it, which some people love. It all puts the Grammys out on the edge a bit,” says Ehrlich.

“Wherever we do it, we’re providing a playing field for artists to be, if they want, more adventurous than in other places. It takes a lot of guts to take a risk in front of 15 million people, and a lot want to play it safe—nothing wrong with that. But when you have a guy like Bruno who wants to be Prince for four minutes and pulls it off, or Lady Gaga says, ‘I got a great idea for David Bowie,’ that’s what we really do.”

Once the last act hits the final note, Ehrlich will probably take a deep breath, offer congratulations to his crew and get back to work. Two days after the ceremony, he and the Recording Academy will be taping another tribute show, just as they have in recent years. They’ve done The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and The Bee Gees to commemorate specific anniversaries; he won’t say who the subject of the next tribute will be.

Ehrlich is signed up through 2020 to produce Grammy telecasts and has no interest in stopping. As much as he loves spending time with his grandchildren on the East Coast, retirement is out of the question. “My golf game is too shitty.”

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