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A CONVERSATION WITH THE MUSIC-TV PIONEER

Interview: Bud Scoppa


The Grammy nominations will be announced this Friday (12/5), but the biggie—Album of the Year—will be saved for A Very Grammy Christmas, airing at 9pm ET/PT on CBS. The special replaces The Grammy Nominations Concert Live, which had been airing since 2008. But there’s continuity here: executive producer Ken Ehrlich. We threw some questions at the music-TV pioneer, who’ll be doing his 35th consecutive Grammys on Feb. 8.

Where did the idea come from to turn the Grammy nominations show into a holiday special?
You might get a different answer from the network than you’ll get from me, but I’ll try and cover both. The simple fact is that while 4-to-5 million people watched the first five editions of this show, the network honestly didn’t feel that we were living up to the potential of what the show could be.

Let’s take one step back. The nominations used to be announced during a morning press conference, and I would ask myself, what were we getting out of it? We were getting a lot of print coverage and some electronic stuff. We always had a reasonable cast of artists that would come because they thought they were gonna get nominated—or at least they wanted to be there—and we had some pretty good moments out of it. But all of a sudden, when we started doing a nominations show to kick off the idea of the Grammy season, we got a lot of pre-publicity and post-promotion because of how it was landing in the public eye. So that was a major step forward, and you couldn’t buy this kind of promotion. So now this show is a hybrid. We’re only going to announce one category—Album of the Year—but several times over the course of the show we’ll reference the fact that the Grammys are coming up in two months.

So it’s going to serve that purpose, not to neglect the fact that the six acts on this show will probably be in the hunt for Grammys. We think; we don’t know. We take our best shot, and sometimes we’re wrong. Four or five years ago, Taylor Swift not only performed on the show, but she co-hosted with LL. She did not get nominated, and I had to walk into that dressing room, and she was crying. So how do you walk into a room with a 19-year-old girl who has every expectation that she’s gonna get nominated for a Grammy, and doesn’t, and has agreed to host your show and be the face of it? So that, if nothing else, goes to prove the fact that we definitely are not infallible.

Can you reveal any details about what’s on the show?
Maroon 5 does a great version of "Happy Christmas, War is Over"; Pharrell does "Please Come Home for Christmas," the old Charles Brown song. These, by the way, are songs that we collaboratively came up with. And this Thursday, we’re gonna shoot Sam Smith on the top of the Capitol Tower doing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which to those of us who are either of a certain age or give a shit about music, know that 57 years prior was recorded 12 stories down by Frank Sinatra for Jolly Christmas. So here’s Sam Smith singing it to a relatively fresh audience of people; it’s really beautiful. At that point we will figure out a way to announce the Album of the Year nominees.

So everything else at that point will be known.
Everything else except that category. They’re gonna be rolled out over the course of the day. I think it’s a combination of broadcasts through CBS and digitally. So I would assume that by the time our show goes on the air, there will be a pretty good buzz about all the nominations except that one. And if we’ve done our job right, then people are gonna want to know what that category holds. It’s either a great idea or a terrible idea.

You’ll be presenting, we presume, five or six nominated artists as performers on the show.
I’m hopeful, because I think that all of the artists we’ve chosen to be on this show—Ariana Grande, Mary J, Pharrell, Maroon 5, Sam and Tim McGraw—will find their way into the nominations. I booked the show based upon looking at what had been submitted, and I hope I’m not wrong. And if I am, then I owe someone an apology.



One more thing: How does it feel to have your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?
Well, it's not anything I ever thought would happen, but when it did, it was very rewarding. Partially because of its history and joining a club with a great number of illustrious members in show-business history, but also because the star will be in front of Capitol Records, which holds a great deal of meaning to me. The Beatles, Sinatra, the Beach Boys, the Four Freshmen, Bonnie Raitt and so many more artists who inspired me to become a producer of music shows, to be in front of that iconic building with that legendary Studio A is just incredible.

Look for an in-depth conversation with Ehrlich as the Grammys approach.
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