Sunday will be executive producer Ben Winston’s third Grammy Awards ceremony but the first in a traditional setting—L.A.’s Crypto.com Arena—and on schedule; the last two years' shows were moved to March from early February/early January thanks to the pandemic.

Which means this is the first time he's had the show ready to go in the tight December-January window after two years of having an additional two months to plan.

“I'd argue that this is probably the hardest show on television to produce—19 musical performers, three and a half hours of live presentations and A-list artists everywhere you turn,” Winston told HITS this week amid final rehearsals. “You've got to deal with making sure everybody's happy and looked after. I think it's shaping up to be a pretty incredible show.”

Winston, whose previous awards-show production experience was with the Brit Awards and the Tonys, and veteran trophyfest producers Raj Kapoor and Jesse Collins are serving as executive producers for a third consecutive year. Kapoor is the showrunner, overseeing the performances; Winston marshals the packages and the running order; and the three handle the bookings collectively. While the experience of doing one show largely outdoors and another in Las Vegas inform the 65th edition of the Grammys, some things from pre-COVID days remain.

“There are elements that we've definitely taken from previous shows because so many great things happened in those,” Winston said. “But I also think we've put a lot of new impetus into it.”

“Grammy moments” on Sunday’s CBS show will include a nine-minute "In Memoriam" segment, a multi-genre pairing of artists—“which came about from an artist saying they'd love to do something with someone from a different genre”—and an anniversary tribute, in this case to hip-hop's 50th.

For your first two shows, you were forced to rethink how to produce a Grammy telecast. What worked then and how might it carry over to your first Grammy Awards in a traditional arena setting?
Last year it was getting the production managers and people who worked on tours and in crews who'd been out of work for so long to introduce their artists to give it that personal touch. The year before, it was people who owned the venues who'd been out of work for so long.

We created some really lovely, heartfelt moments, and we're gonna try to do that again this year. Last year, for instance, we did this really beautiful thing where we featured artists who are in categories that don't usually get featured on the telecast playing in and out of breaks.

With all the shows that we do as a company, we tell stories. And in making an entertainment variety show, it’s not just one big concert; we've got the story of the awards—for one thing, Beyoncé could break the record as the person with the most Grammys of all time.

When you're reaching out to performers, how much are you saying, "We'd love to have you on the show," as opposed to "We'd love to have you on the show to do this particular song or segment?"
On the whole, since we took over, the artist knows best. And if we're lucky enough to have artists perform on the show, then we respect them hugely and work with them on what they want to do. Now, if they're going in a crazy direction, we'll say, "I don't necessarily think this is right. Would you consider this alternative?" And we brainstorm and collaborate with them.

Since you were announced as the new EP of the Grammys, The Recording Academy has been going through changes of its own. What's the relationship now in terms of what they want to see in the show, what CBS wants out of the show and how you envision it all?
HITS gives the Recording Academy far too much of a hard time because they're doing a great job and really trying to turn things around.

I think Harvey Mason Jr. is phenomenal. The changes he's made to the organization and the awards show make me proud to produce this show. It's incredibly collaborative. There's a huge amount of trust there from [CBS specials head] Jack Sussman and Harvey toward Raj, Jesse and me. We communicate with them all the time, and sometimes they'll pitch an idea and we love it, and sometimes we explain why we don't want to do it. But the collaboration has never been tighter. We're all quite close friends as well.

Over the last few years, before we took over, there were some difficult times, and the show and the Academy came in for criticism. Ultimately, much has changed. So a lot of that criticism is now unfair because the change that people demanded has happened. And unless people get behind the organization and behind the show, then the change is purposeless.

There's always noise about the importance of the show, how the ratings have dropped and so on. How do you address that?
People say, "It's not rating like it did in 2018," but that so misses the point of where television is today. CBS's top sitcom in 2018 rated 25 million, and today’s top sitcom rates 5 million. The Grammys had 94 billion impressions last year. You don't get that for documentaries or sitcoms or the news, but you do have it with the Grammys.

I went to The Forum the other night to see Harry Styles and 70% of the audience was wearing a feather boa. Everywhere he goes around the world—Brazil, Argentina, Thailand—everyone's wearing a feather boa. What's funny is he's only ever worn a feather boa once, and that was when he opened the Grammys two years ago.

That actually shows the power of the Grammys, because people are watching it. They're just watching it in entirely different ways—TikTok and Instagram and YouTube and streaming on Paramount+. That's why it's still the awards show people will show up to and why it will always matter. And if you win one, it will always make it as a line in your obituary.