A Letter From The Academy
A Letter From The Academy

An introduction To The 54th Annual Grammy Awards

Grammy Award nominations announcement and the Feb. 12 ceremony are both obvious and intriguing.

Will Adele, with six nominations and a major contender for three of the top awards, have recovered from her throat surgery in time to perform?

Will Chris Brown return?

Can the "major reunion" that the Recording Academy promoted for its nominations show-reportedly Van Halen or the Beach Boys-get together in time for the ceremony?

And will the acts who have had a taste of the limelight in the general categories-chiefly Kanye West and Taylor Swift-return to the show in anticipation for genre-specific awards?

One thing is certain: Having Paul McCartney as the MusiCares Person of the Year creates a unique opportunity for the Grammy telecast.

"He's beloved," CBS executive VP of specials Jack Sussman says. "A lot of artists in their 20s have tremendous affection for him. And the fact that a bunch of kids have learned to play the piano by playing the Beatles songbook means everyone from my mother to my 16-year-old daughter is aware of him. It gives us a great excuse to think of what we can do."

Beyond McCartney, the Recording Academy, executive producer Ken Ehrlich and CBS executives have a healthy field to chose from this year: Nearly every artist with a top 10 Billboard 200 album or top 10 Billboard Hot 100 single received a nomination. And the rock field has a bevy of new names-Bon Iver, the Decemberists, Mastodon and Foster the People-that could benefit from appearances as the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons did last year backing Bob Dylan.

Still, the emphasis is sure to be on showmanship and extravaganza. Sussman points to the nominations show, which Lady Gaga opened on her own and closed with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles, as an indication of what's to come with the awards program. "If that worked for you, February will blow your mind," he says.

CBS, which is already populating its website with Grammy content, will begin promoting the show right after the new year and, according to Sussman, will "put the metal down" between Feb. 1 and 12.

This will be the first time in the awards' history that the number of awards handed out will be significantly reduced from the previous year-78 categories for the 54th annual Grammys versus 109 at the 53rd. The reduction has resulted in a smaller number of artists receiving multiple nominations: 86 this year, down 69 from last year's 155.

Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow says it's too early to judge how the category consolidation will affect change in the music industry and in how fans consume music. As usual, planning for the Feb. 12 telecast began the day after the nominations announcement, and Portnow stresses the importance of maximizing efficiencies in the recently completed L.A. Live complex.

"We're a little more self-contained on this campus," he says. "Not only is there familiarity, but there's definitely a convenience factor and in some cases an economic factor. I am always motivated to have the Grammy Museum worked into as much as we do as possible. For the MusiCares Person of the Year gala [at the adjacent Convention Center], there really is no other facility in greater L.A. that can host the number of people we have at that event."

Portnow and Sussman note that the program needs to reflect the nominations as well as the year in music, but it ultimately has to be an entertaining TV show.

Sussman says that putting on a good show for the Staples Center audience is only a small part of the equation. "[To] maintain the integrity of the music, maintain integrity as a show for three-and-a-half hours and deliver an event for TV [are the goals]. We have a lot of faith in Ken Ehrlich because nobody is better at maintaining that integrity."

RATINGS: ON THE RISE

CBS and the Recording Academy, which signed a 10-year deal last summer to continue their relationship, hope to make it three straight years of improved viewership.

The 2011 Grammy Awards telecast recorded the largest audience for the awards show in a decade, pulling in 26.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen. Up 3% from the 2010 broadcast, it represented a 35% spike from 2009 when 19 million people watched. More than 12.6 million viewers of the 2011 telecast were in the desired 18-49 demographic.

The show has quickly recovered from the 2008 and 2006 broadcasts when viewership was slightly more than 17 million, according to Nielsen. Numbers for the 2006 telecast were the lowest in the show's history-17.005 million viewers in 12.1 million homes. The show bounced back in 2007 with 20.1 million viewers before dipping down to 17.2 million in 2008. -PG

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