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JACK SUSSMAN: 24K
MAGIC ON THE AIR

Everyone likes to be spoken of in glowing terms. Few get the accolades Jack Sussman heaps on Bruno Mars, whose first primetime TV special airs on CBS at the start of the Grammy season.

“We’re taking, probably, the best entertainer out there and putting him on TV,” says Sussman, CBS Entertainment’s EVP of Specials, Music and Live Events. “The Grammys are where Bruno proved himself in a big way [first in 2012]. He’s taken that momentum and run with it.

“On the Grammy stage, the stakes are high. You’re not just performing to 200 million around the world—you’re in front of your peers in those first 15 rows, people who have been on that stage or want to be on that stage. The pressure is high, and not everybody handles that well. He handled it as well as anyone has ever done. Now, he burns down the Apollo Theater.”

Jack means that figuratively, of course, referring to Bruno Mars: 24k Magic Live at the Apollo, which airs 11/29, the day after the nominations are announced.

After three years of falling in February, the 60th edition of the Grammy Awards has been moved up to January to avoid conflicts with the Winter Olympics. “It’s between the AFC Championship and Olympics,” Sussman says. “This is our sweet spot, and that’s why it’s there.”

For CBS, which has aired the Grammys since 1972, the move to New York gives the network “a chance to tell the story a little differently. That will be part of our storytelling that night—the greatest city in the world hosting the biggest and best entertainment show. It brings it to a whole other level. A tremendous amount of Grammy history has happened in New York.”

New York audiences have witnessed several of the most dominant victories in Grammy history: Carole King and Lou Adler cleaned up with Tapestry in 1972 at the Felt Forum; Christopher Cross made history with a sweep of the Big Four categories in 1981; Quincy Jones had a six-win night in 1991; Whitney Houston was the hit of  the 1994 ceremony; and, of course, Norah Jones took home three of the Big Four awards in 2003, while Jesse Harris won Song of the Year for her hit “Don’t Know Why.”

Historians may well remember the New York-centric parade of performers in between U2 and Paul Simon picking up trophies for Joshua Tree and Graceland at the 30th annual Grammys at Radio City Music Hall. George Benson played “On Broadway” and Brooklynite Billy Crystal was the host; Lou Reed, Cotton Club mainstay Cab Calloway, Queens’ Run-D.M.C. and Long Island’s Billy Joel were among the performers.

Those and other memories are being wrapped in another pre-Grammy special, Grammys Greatest Stories, which Sussman says “is talking about the greatest moments of the Grammys and the artists who were part of them and who were inspired by them.

“It gives us an opportunity to remind viewers of those amazing moments. It’s live TV—no lip-syncing, no mixing in the basement to be replayed later on. We want to know what they thought about it when they were onstage and what they thought about a performance when they were 12 and watching in their living room. It creates excitement and gets people thinking about what’s coming down the pike.”

The show will feature rare archival footage and exclusive interviews with Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin, Paul McCartney, Ed Sheeran, Springsteen and others. Segments will cover the music community’s reaction to the death of Whitney Houston the day before the ceremony, Franklin’s unexpected opera performance at the 40th Grammys, and McCartney’s performance of a chunk of The BeatlesAbbey Road.

Sussman’s domain has a healthy number of awards shows—The Tonys, The ACM Awards and this year’s Emmys—in addition to a regular collection of specials—ACM Honors, Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and The Kennedy Center Honors. In recent years, he and CBS have expanded music content, most prominently with the Grammy celebration concert specials that are usually filmed two days after the Grammy Awards. (There’s one on tap this year; it will be their fifth).

“For a good idea, we’ll find a time period,” Sussman says. “We don’t want to overdo it, don’t want to damage the idea. A special gets greenlit if we can succeed and get the proper support from the partner and the artists. That’s when we’ll take a shot.”

Photographed by Lester Cohen

 

 

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