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Grammy Producer Talks Adele, McCartney & (Lack of) Boycotts

The Recording Academy uses the two weeks prior to the Grammy Awards to announce performers and presenters and executive producer Ken Ehrlich says Thursday should yield a "major interesting" announce…

The Recording Academy uses the two weeks prior to the Grammy Awards to announce performers and presenters and executive producer Ken Ehrlich says Thursday should yield a “major interesting” announcement.

Ehrlich tells Billboard that this year’s telecast — 8 p.m. Feb. 12 on CBS — will feature 17 or 18 production pieces with about 22 songs being performed. “Arguably it’s one of the biggest shows” in the history of the Grammys, he says.

Ehrlich, who started working on the telecast in 1984, spoke about this year’s show, careful to not reveal any details that will come out in the next coupe of weeks. Friday, he says “we might have another two or three things. Barring the unseen, I think we’re done. There’s one thing hanging out there, but usually by now we’re done. But you never know.”

For a while there, the Grammys trade in stock was all of the duets. It felt like it eased up but they have come back and make more sense now, like Usher and Justin Bieber last year. Will that continue?

What I’ve always tried to do is raise the bar – Prince and Beyonce, honoring the Clash with Bruce Springsteen. Our calling card has been you have to watch because there are performances you have not seen before. Point of fact, my first show was with Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand doing ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ live for the first time. What really got us doing those things was when Neil (Portnow) arrived and he said we should do more of them. Because the show is at the end of the awards cycle, it’s not about putting people on who you’ve seen elsewhere.

One person who has not made it on other shows is Adele. Any word yet on her possible appearance?

We are in discussions with Adele and we’re hoping her first appearance will be on the Grammys.

You’ve announced a fair number of performers – a tribute to Glen Campbell with the Band Perry and Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Rihanna, Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift. Has the consolidation of categories to 78 affected who you can book?

Personally I miss a broader palette but it has not really affected us. I was concerned with regard to the mainstream categories combining male and female into performance. I like the broadest canvas possible because when I put on a show, I believe the more the merrier. So some people not nominated will be on the show.

When the announcement was made that there would be fewer categories there was talk of protests and boycotts. Has anyone that you reached out to said they would not appear on the show or CBS?

No not one. That brings up a good point. Paul Simon is a good friend of mine and he made a brilliant album and, as a fan, I think he deserved (a nomination). I’m disappointed, but I don’t think the reduction in categories had anything to do with him not getting nominated.

In interviews around the time of the nominations concert in December, Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow said there was potential for the December show to take on some of the February telecast. Did that occur? The show felt different from years past.

We finally found our place. We struggled for a couple of years. It felt unwieldy in Nokia Theatre and then we moved it but it was way too big for the club. After three years, we said we need to give it it’s own life. We needed to mirror the February show so we put in one of the Grammy Hall of Fame songs, “The Message,” for a segment and the response was great. Nick Ashford and Jerry Lieber had just passed away and I thought that once we got to February we wouldn’t be able to what we could do (in December) with Usher and their songwriting partners (Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller). We had Gaga, Jason Aldean – it was a miniaturized Grammy show. We read off five categories — that was enough. It’s Paul Revere (saying) it’s Grammy season.

But in doing the show, how important is it to entertain the people in the crowd?

To me it has to be better than the TV show. From the first day I started, and I guess I’m antiquated, if the show is good in the house the viewer experiences that. I don’t care what the size of your screen is or whatever point-one your surround system is or if you have 3D. If Mick Jagger lights up that audience, that goes into peoples’ homes. That’s the joy of creating this and adding the layer of TV.

One cool element last year was the black and white Bruno Mars performance. Anything like that this year?

There are four numbers this year that will probably affect the live audience that are done with the TV audience in mind. Paul McCartney’s singing his new song ‘My Valentine’ that he wrote for his new wife. It’s exquisite. You hear ‘Yesterday’ in it vocally – that’s what the song is. I thought single camera will make this better. I want to shoot from a perspective that harkens back to a classic look, when there were only three networks and when color TV was new. Number one, it fits the song and two it adds impact to the song. It’s a chance to do something I can’t do with Nicki Minaj.