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People said, “This is an all-network show and we only have 10 musical slots. Why are we booking Randy Newman?” I said, “Because he’s got the most perfect song.” We have to think about it that way too.
THIS GALLEN GOES A LONG WAY
Acclaimed TV Producer of Musical Specials Reprises His Role in America: A Tribute to Heroes for a Special Dedicated to Raising Money and Hope for the Victims of Hurricane Katrina
Joel Gallen, the executive producer of Friday night’s all-network TV special, Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast (reprising his role in the historic post 9/11 show, America: A Tribute to Heroes), graciously took time out from another long and hectic day of preparation Tuesday night to describe the myriad elements that go into creating a major event—this one featuring musical performers Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Rod Stewart, Alicia Keys, Paul Simon and others—from scratch on a tight deadline. HITSBud Scoppa was on the other end of the line, interrupting Joel’s flow.

When did you get the call, Joel?
I got a feeler on Tuesday, and the official call was Wednesday to do the show. Originally, they wanted to do the show tonight, right after Labor Day weekend. I was going, “What?” But we geared it up and put the wheels in motion. By Thursday afternoon, I thought I might be able to pull this off, and then they said they couldn’t get the phone lines ready in time, so it was moved to this Friday.

That had to be a relief.
It was and it wasn’t. Once you start, you just want to go and go quickly. But what happened was, there was a lot of waiting around because of the Labor Day weekend. People weren’t giving us answers, and then there were a lot of people who teased us, saying they were gonna do something, and then they don’t do it. So it’s been frustrating.

So along with conceiving and executing the show, you also have to hustle up the acts.
Yeah, I have to book everybody, celebrities and the bands—at least the initial calls, and then people follow up for me, but I’ve gotta make the first call. And then you have help, obviously, from people you know, because everybody wants to contribute in a situation like this. But what happened with 9/11, it was this one singular vision that came to me, and I sort of led the charge, so to speak. With 9/11, it was like, what can you do? You felt helpless, and that’s why, when our show came along, it helped begin the healing process. This time, people are actively doing things, and there are things they can continue to do—and this is just one more thing they’ll be able to contribute to.

In that sense, it’s a greater challenge creatively than the 9/11 special, isn’t it?
Yes, but I’ve gotta just keep saying to myself, “Look, that America: A Tribute to Heroes show—there will never be another show like that, ever. That thing just came together miraculously; we had a greater power looking over us. The synergy, and the people who worked on that show… All the stars were aligned, and it was just such an inspiring show, and such an honor to be asked to put together a show like that. I was nervous, I was sweating, I didn’t think we’d pull it off—two days into it I thought we were gonna have to cancel it—and then it just came together. Everybody rallied around it, celebrities, musicians, the networks. It was this beautiful thing. And then, to think that four years later I’d be asked to do something like that again… You can’t expect to repeat the magical experience that it was. So we’ve just gotta do the best we can. It’s an hour instead of two hours, but we’re gonna have music and some great people speaking, and a great message, and we’re gonna try to raise as much money as possible.

As for the musical talent, it’s great that Neil Young, who did such an extraordinary job with “Imagine,” agreed to be on this show as well.
He was one of the first people who signed up. I think he remembered the impact of 9/11, and when he heard that we were putting it together, he wanted to be part of it, and we’re happy that he is.

Is there any other planned performance that you consider to be key to the show, as “Imagine was to Tribute?
I keep saying that nobody should go into this show thinking it’s going to be America: A Tribute to Heroes II. This is just a bunch of artists and movie and TV stars rallying together to raise as much money as possible to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. If, along the way, we have some performances that really inspire you and give some memorable performances, certainly that’s the goal. I mean, we do have Randy Newman sitting at the piano by himself doing “Louisiana 1927”—it doesn’t get any purer than that. People said, “This is an all-network show and we only have 10 musical slots. Why are we booking Randy Newman?” I said, “Because he’s got the most perfect song.” We have to think about it that way too. Alicia Keys is gonna dig deep into the southern, Baptist, gospel roots of New Orleans and the whole region and pull out something that’s almost church-like. I’m sure she’ll be very effective and very powerful. Again, with a show like this, I don’t know what people are doing; they’re still contemplating.

You’re not telling them what to do, then?
I never tell them what to do. We have artists that need an idea, and I share that idea, and, like four years ago, some people like the idea and some don’t. I’d love someone to do “Born on the Bayou”—it’s such a proud song—but I don’t know who it’s gonna be. I’m still working on it.

For the 9/11 show, you came up with the visual motif of candles. Does this show have a unifying visual premise?
This one was tough. The candles were a no-brainer—it was the right thing at the right time. So what we’re doing here is hanging strips of fabric, with light bulbs and lanterns behind it. Sort of like the light at the end of the tunnel—the ray of hope—to show that we have a lot of rebuilding, but we feel that it’s possible, and we all have to do it together. The only thing I added to that is, we’re gonna project images from this area pre-hurricane, to remind people how important, culturally rich and fantastic this area of the country is. The problem is, we need about two extra days to make this work…

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