RAC CLARK: ACMs PRODUCER THROWS OUT THE RULES

R.A. Clark—or RAC, as he’s known—has a long and storied history in television. As lead stage manager of the Grammys and producer of The Nashville Network’s Prime Time Country talk show (following the retirement of Nashville Now’s Ralph Emery), he’s helmed the ACM Awards, with originating producer Gene Weed or on his own, for more than two decades.

Having presided over the ACM’s 2015 awards broadcast from Dallas’ AT&T Stadium, Clark is no stranger to the singular challenges of staging a show that must work for both the 40,000 people on site and the millions tuning in. Going live on Amazon Prime Video from Las Vegas Allegiant Stadium on 3/7 means two action-packed hours with no commercials to catch your breath or reset, but the Lion Heart Entertainment producer, who is also overseeing the MusiCares Person of the Year event honoring Joni Mitchell, has always loved doing things for the first time.

In host Dolly Parton, Clark and his team have someone who knows what to do in a pinch, a total pro whose jokes practically write themselves. Without the involvement of a major network, they’re also freed from the need for massive names to promote on broadcast prime time—opening up endless possibilities.

You’ve sort of done this before.
And I’ve got Glenn Weiss, the only human being in the world who’s directed a live awards show from a stadium, so I’m not doing this alone. When it comes to perspective, scaling, the realities, there’s someone else who understands these things, which matters.

But it’s faster, harder, more.
Two hours nonstop. In terms of production, to really keep the pacing up—and recognizing that there’s no real time for change-overs—we’re building no sets. It’s all gonna just keep happening right there in the stadium. We recognize the stakes; if there’s a production mess-up, where do you go? We have to be flawless.

You sound energized by the challenge.
I like being first, getting out there and blazing a trail. I love a challenge, figuring out how it can be done. People thought we were crazy when we went to Dallas in ’15. Granted, we had four years, and this is four months, but we’re bringing a lot of our stadium knowledge in. And Amazon wants this to look and feel different from any awards show that’s ever been staged. They said, “Throw out all the rules; create something so exciting that people have to keep watching.”

Which means what, exactly?
If you extract the commercials from a broadcast show, you have two hours and 15 minutes. We’re giving out eight awards. Once we determined that, the big questions were: How do we pace this? How do we block it? How do we create a different look? How do we create a different feeling from what people are used to experiencing? With what's essentially a 90-minute concert, it’s pure momentum. Even with ballads, they’re placed so you get sucked even deeper into the experience.

All I’ve done for the last two months is listen to music, think about these artists and work on the rundown. We’re hoping to have 27 artists in two hours. People say, “So, it’s going to be all high intensity,” but I don’t think so. We're being very thoughtful: How many medleys? How long are the songs? What’s 2:15 versus 3:35?

And it’ll be performances you won’t see on broadcast, maybe some artists who are streaming heavily; we may look to Blanco Brown and Parmalee, who are streaming successes, because we want to embrace the new world of finding country stars as much as the traditional ways.

What will you do differently?
Shorten the packages. Give awards faster. More music, less talk. We also have spider cams, like at football games; it’s like the huddle cam—it can put you right in the action or pull back and give you this massive view. That creates momentum. Amazon wants to deliver the ultimate live-awards experience to its members—do what’s never been done.

They bring unique things too.
You’re not kidding. Amazon has a technology called X-Ray that allows a way more interactive experience once the show has aired. Viewers can find out about—and purchase or stream—a variety of things, not just music. Books, fashion... It’s incredible.

This is the first real ACM Awards show since 2019. You were the first back on the air, with the From Home special, when the world was upside down. Then you figured out how to do awards shows—from Nashville—when no one was doing them.
The last few years, people have given us some slack. They really responded to the From Home show we did in place of the ACMs because it provided reassurance; it created some normalcy.

And being able to honor Nashville, show the roots of a lot of this music, has created opportunities for us. But we’re ready to be back—really back—and now we have a new partner, a new means of delivering, a new format and a new venue. This show will really reflect where country music is right now in so many ways beyond what people expect.

And what hasn’t changed?
To me, country comes down to the songs. They always reflect the values of the people who’re listening; it's family, home, friends, love, memories. And if it weren’t for the songwriting community in Nashville, this show would be vastly different. From Hank Williams Sr. to today, writers have perfectly reflected the times, their moment. I think that’s why country music will always remain country.

HITS LIST:
HOME RUN DERBY
Going yard (7/11a)
NEAR TRUTHS: A TOUR OF THE LANDSCAPE
I.B. will be your guide. (7/15a)
GRAMMY PRE-CHEW:
THREE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIG 4
On your Marks, get set, go. (7/8a)
ON THE COVER:
CHAPPELL ROAN
Half of Island's one-two punch (7/15a)
AUSTIN NEAL STICKS THE LANDING
These two are tight. (7/15a)
THE GRAMMY SHORT LIST
Who's already a lock?
COUNTRY'S NEWEST DISRUPTOR
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
AI IS ALREADY EATING YOUR LUNCH
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
INDIE DISTRIBUTION'S RISE TO GLORY
The discovery engine is revving higher.
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