Fans who tune in to HBO’s presentation of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday (Nov. 7) will notice some changes from the show’s usual format. To start with, there are no live performances, a concession to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the highlights packages which tell the honorees’ stories are several times longer than they’ve been in the past. They each run about 10 minutes, compared to two or three minutes on previous shows.
These packages contain archival clips and fresh interviews. Joel Peresman, president and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, says the greater length of the packages allowed them to go in more depth on each artist’s story, and to incorporate more voices.
“That’s something we’ve always liked to do. Part of our mission as an institution is to really teach people why these artists are important and why they got inducted. It ties in almost closer to what we do at the museum in Cleveland [than our usual format].”
Peresman thinks the highlights packages turned out so well that he hopes to have them as the basis for a spinoff show in the future.
“[Once the pandemic is over], the plan is to go back to the format that we had [with shorter clip packages, plus an introduction, acceptance speech and performance by each honoree]. What would be great is if we could create an additional program that could go a little deeper and tell some of these stories about the artists. If we could create some additional programming that we could run with our media partner [HBO] that goes a little deeper and tells the stories about these artists, that would be ideal.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony was originally set to be held on May 2 at Cleveland’s Public Hall. “We had hotels booked, flights booked, tables sold,” Peresman says.
The show was planning to have performances by this year’s three living artist honorees—Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and The Doobie Brothers—and to have other artists perform on behalf of the three posthumous inductees–Whitney Houston, The Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex (whose charismatic lead singer Marc Bolan died in 1977).
The show wasn’t 100% booked, but it was well on its way. “There were still some artists who we were working on to do it,” Peresman says.
On March 12, as the COVID-19 pandemic was causing widespread panic in the U.S., the show was postponed.
The conversation then became: “OK, what can we do to follow the safety protocols, be able to keep all the crew safe, artists safe and still be able to do something that fits in creatively with what they were trying to do?”
Peresman and his team hoped to have live performances on the postponed show, but came to realize it would be all but impossible. “[In June,] at the time [we had to make the decision], everybody was hunkered down. The idea of trying to put something together in one place just logistically was pretty impossible, wildly expensive and from a safety standpoint, kind of tough to do.
“We had some initial discussions to get some feelers. At one point we were looking at ‘Could we rent a theater in Los Angeles, for example?’ But the logistics of trying to do that and clear the building and bring people in safely and have to quarantine people, logically made no sense. And this was at the height [of the scare], not that this isn’t the height now, but it was crazy then. People were nervous. People weren’t really looking to hop on a plane and fly around.
“It’s devastating to us and to them [the honorees] not be to be able to do that [the usual show],” says Peresman, a 2010 Emmy nominee as one of the executive producers of the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert, which was nominated for outstanding variety, music or comedy special.“
“People love that experience. That’s one of the great things about the show. It gives the opportunity for these inductees to get together in front of their fans, families and contemporaries and say things.”
That said, Peresman isn’t a fan of a live performances without an audience. “When I watch a lot of these performances on TV and then there’s no audience, it’s weird. There’s no reaction. You’re basically doing a music video.”
Peresman agrees that TV producers have been doing the best they can in this challenging year—and occasionally doing great work. He cites The Rolling Stones’ performance of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” from their individual houses on One World Together at Home, The Global Citizen concert in April 18, and The Weeknd’s show-opening performance of “Blinding Lights” on the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 30.
“They’re doing really clever things based on what we have to work with. Necessity is the mother of invention and people are really rising to that [level].”
The cancellation of this year’s induction ceremony has impacted the Rock Hall’s finances. “That is our one major fund-raiser for the year,” Peresman says. “It provides a challenge, frankly.”
While this year’s show didn’t involve as many hotel and travel expenses, it entailed far more licensing fees. All those vintage clips come at a cost.
The COVID-19 crisis has had a permanent effect on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s timetable. “Because the show moved to November of this year, we as an organization have permanently rejiggered our timing on things,” Peresman says. “Going forward, the induction ceremony will be in the fall.
“The way we’ve done it [in the past], the nominating committee has met in September, it goes out to voting in late October, we announced the results in December, the induction ceremony has generally been in March or April.
“Now, the nominating process will start in late January. We’ll announce the nominations in February. It will go out to voters and we’ll announce the nominees in the spring—probably early April.”