Billboard Music Awards co-executive producer Richard Beckman on the show's set in Las Vegas (Photo: Taylor Jones)
Rihanna and Britney. Lil Wayne and Mary J. An eye-popping performance from an army of Beyonces. Last year, the return of the Billboard Music Awards made a huge splash, with performers, production and water-cooler moments on a par with the biggest awards shows on television. The ratings were no slouch either, with the three-hour telecast on ABC averaging 7.9 million total viewers from 8-11 p.m., up 28 percent from the last telecast of the show in 2006. The show dominated the ratings across the board in the key demographics, drawing a 2.9 rating among adults 18-49, which translates to more than 3.8 million viewers in that age group.
In short, a tough act to follow. But on Friday morning at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, with technicians scurrying around, buzzsaws screeching and a dazzling lighting display being tested, Co-Executive Producer Richard Beckman was confident and clearly in his element. After all, the show - airing live Sunday night at 8 p.m. on ABC - has an equally strong roster of talent that includes Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Usher, Carrie Underwood, Chris Brown, Kelly Clarkson, LMFAO, CeeLo Green, Linkin Park, the Wanted, Nelly Furtado and more, including a show-closing presentation of Billboard's Icon Award to Stevie Wonder, who will then perform with Alicia Keys. There will also be tributes to recording artists who left us this year: Whitney Houston, the Beastie Boys' Adam "MCA" Yauch, and, just yesterday, Donna Summer.
"The challenge for us honestly was not about topping last year," Beckman said. "We put on a great show, it got tremendous ratings and great buzz, and there were some great highlights -- the opening with Rihanna and Britney, the Beyonce moment was extraordinary. But I think that this show has more of a continuum of great production values from start to finish than we managed last year.
See All The 2012 BBMA Finalists Here
"Billboard is an incredibly powerful brand -- 118 years old, still the bible of the industry -- and I wanted to create an event that celebrates that and articulates that and enables us to grow to a place where the product we put onstage, which is seen in 120 countries this year by millions of people, really enhances and empowers the brand. I'm not so much focused on how year two can be better than year one -- I'm more concerned with 10 years and how we can narrow the gap with the Grammys."
Keeping the show contemporary and of the moment, no small challenge given the amount of time it takes to plan an event on this scale, was one of the top priorities. "I saw the rehearsal yesterday with Carly Rae Jepsen," he said. "When we booked her no one really knew her name, and now "Call Me Maybe" is No. 4 on [the Billboard Hot 100] and No. 1 on iTunes, and her performance is terrific, really energetic. Usher's a hell of a performer, he's a triple threat, I've worked with him on Fashion Rocks and Movies Rock. There are kickass performances from Bieber and Katy Perry and LMFAO, and the wonderful collaboration with Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. The whole show is populated with great performances."
While the tribute to Houston was planned over the course of several weeks, Yauch passed just two weeks ago and Summer just yesterday.
"I was at the Grammys, and what a curveball they were thrown when Whitney passed away [the day before the show]," Beckman said. "They did a good job with Jennifer Hudson, but obviously we had a bit more time, so we wanted to do something honoring such a remarkable performer. We have a lovely segment with a full orchestra and John Legend doing "The Greatest Love of All" -- his voice is just smashing -- and Whitney's last co-star [in the movie "Sparkle"], Jordin Sparks, "Doing I Will Always Love You." And Bobbi Kristina, Whitney's daughter, will accept the Millennium Award for her mother, which we created last year for Beyonce -- that's probably the highest tribute we could pay.
"We're going to do something for Adam, and for Donna too -- given that it only happened yesterday, there's not a lot of room to get too creative, but they're both great influences in music and they deserve to be respected." (He declined to provide more specific information, saying that some details had not been finalized.)
Gesturing at the giant stage and soaring lights, Beckman emphasizes that the show is "strung together like a string of pearls, it all needs to work together. We have [co-executive producer] Don Mischer, who is in my opinion bar none the very best producer of these music specials on the planet: he's won 15 Emmys, we've done a number of shows together and I love working with him. The artists get to express themselves in this environment -- it's a huge stage, as you can see. I think this is my 18th network special -- it's as big as anything I've done, that's for sure."
And Beckman hints at even bigger things in store for next year. "We're going to be producing a number of shows next year, the Prometheus Branded Entertainment division, so in the end there'll be a continuum between shows that move from one to the other." While he declined to be more specific than that, saying details will be announced "shortly," he did promise Billboard.biz (with a wink), "You'll get it before anyone else does!"
The 2012 Billboard Music Awards will air live on ABC Sunday night at 8 p.m. #BBMA
Tickets for the 2012 Billboard Music Awards are now on sale at Ticketmaster.com and MGMGrand.com. The 2012 Billboard Music Awards will be co-executive produced by Richard D. Beckman, CEO of Prometheus Global Media and Don Mischer Productions.