It’s been a busy year so far for Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich, who is trying to unwind after overseeing the awards show live on Sunday night, then the taping of the gala The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles, which will air Feb. 9 on CBS, 50 years to the day since the Fab Four hit the States and performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Rather than experiencing postpartum depression, Ehrlich is basking in the glow of the show’s second-best ratings over the past 20 years…and Jay Z’s furtive cognac bottle from which he took a sip on Sunday night. He expanded on why there won’t be a West Coast simulcast anytime soon, what he thought of Trent Reznor’s closing-number anger and where all the same-sex kiss shots were during Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” performance.
How are you feeling right about now?
It’s been an interesting few weeks, I can tell you that. Numb is a reasonably appropriate description. Last night was just pure adrenaline because Sunday night turned out to be so great. A couple of times during the Beatles salute, I walked over to the row I had all of them in and there were huge smiles on all their faces. At the end of the day, that was kind of what it was all about. They walked into it reluctantly, but they really did love it. I was very touched by how involved they were, and how every single artist on that bill really cared about what they were doing. To see Dave Grohl and Jeff Lynne play “Hey, Bulldog” with two Beatles sitting fifty feet from them was remarkable. Hopefully, it’s the cherry on the sundae.
Do you read any of the Grammy show tweets and blogs?
Normally I do, but I did a stupid thing Sunday night. I really don’t drink, but about an hour from the end of the show, Jay Z keeps a little bottle of cognac underneath his seat, and takes a taste. So I came down there a couple of times during the show and he filled my cup. By the “In Memoriam” segment, I was feeling pretty good. By the time I got to the Daft Punk party at the Park Plaza Hotel, I wound up back with Beyonce and Jay Z, who offered me another shot of cognac. By the time I got back to my hotel room at 2:30 a.m., I had to get up at 6:30 a.m., so I have not seen one review, nor have I got to the 100 emails. What I did get was that most people really loved it.
How do you feel about the ratings?
We live and die by the ratings, but I do the shows because for me, it’s always been about the creative, what we do. I make a show for people to like, but you can’t predict these things. I was thrilled. Last four or five years, we’ve been on a roll.
How did the idea to marry 33 couples during the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performance of “Same Love” come about?
That was from my daughter, who’s gay. She had read somewhere that there had been wedding proposals made during their shows because of that song. I first met with them last September over lunch to see what kind of people they were, and blurted out if they’d be willing to preside over actual marriages, and agree not to perform the song on TV anyplace else until the show, because I wanted to save it for us. They loved the idea, so I had it vetted by the Recording Academy and CBS, and there were no objections. It had to be both tasteful and “fair and balanced.” We wanted to make sure the artist felt their creative expression was respected. We booked an outside agency with experience in reality shows to find the actual couples who wanted to be married on live television. Then we got Queen Latifah sworn in as a deputy commissioner, which allowed her to legally perform civil ceremonies.
So you went for a combination of heterosexual and same sex couples?
That was a very conscious decision on our part. If we’re going to do something that promotes equality, you can’t exclude anyone. We didn’t want this to turn into a soapbox for anyone. We didn’t want to book really proactive couples, or who would turn it into a self-promotion for something they were doing.
Some observers were critical that you didn’t show a same-sex kiss on the air.
I thought we did, but I could be wrong. I know I saw hand-holding and embraces. We didn’t discourage it. It’s what [director] Lou Horvitz caught.
What prompted giving Ringo Starr his own segment to perform his “Photograph” single?
We love Ringo. Paul had been on the show before. Frankly, we make no bones about wanting to promote the show coming up in two weeks. There’s no shame in that.
You tried to intersperse the big set pieces with the more intimate solo performances.
There are many ups and downs during the course of the show. It’s a bad word these days, but it’s variety, the one thing left that live event television can do that you don’t get elsewhere.
Were there any other special Grammy moments for you?
My moments are different. They come when I’m standing in a dressing room and Merle Haggard walked over to me, sort of grabbed my arm and said, “Thank you, son. You don’t know how much this means to me.” And I hear that a great deal, in different contexts. The “family of music” is a phrase that really means something to me. These artists are truly in awe of one another, with admiration, respect and even envy. Being awarded by your peers isn’t just a cliché. It’s an appreciation of one another’s creative process.
Did you ever see the guys in Daft Punk without their robot gear?
I did, yeah. In fact, I told them to put their helmets on during dress rehearsal because there were people in a luxury suite taking pictures with their iPhones. At their party, two in the morning, a little buzzed on cognac, I said to Thomas [Bangalter], “You look a lot better with that f—in’ helmet on.” I’m sure that was the French sensibility coming out of me.
What’s your response to Trent Reznor’s anger at the last number being cut off?
I’m sorry he was upset. I was really thrilled that we were finally getting him on the Grammys. The final jam started with Arcade Fire a few years ago, and LL Cool J last year. I want to end on a high, an up note. I did tell them we’d take it as long as we could. The number was about five, six minutes long, and we got to within a minute twenty of the end. We got as close as we could possibly get.
Isn’t it time for a West Coast simulcast, especially in light of all the social media and live blogging?
I’m an old guy. I think it works the other way. I’ve got millions of people on the West Coast online reading about the opening performance with Beyonce, wanting to tune in. To me, that’s a plus. I can’t promote my performances any other way. The things that happen on this show occur only once. If I’ve got three hours to promote it upfront, I’ll take it. It used to be the other way around, with people writing about the show the day after and that does me no good.