The Grammy Awards have a difficult task in 2010: How to keep audiences enthralled with the best of today’s music while remembering a legend in Michael Jackson. Let’s ask Grammy Awards longtime producer Ken Ehrlich how he pays Jackson homage without it overtaking the January 31 show on CBS.
Grammy Awards executive producer Ehrlich spoke about the process of putting together the biggest night in music. The man has been involved in Grammy Award television productions for more than 30 years.
As such, his experience with Jackson has been immense. None of his Grammy-related Michael Jackson work was more powerful, however, than a meeting the night before the King of Pop passed away. Ehrlich met Jackson at the Stapes Center while he was rehearsing This is It to discuss appearing on the 2010 Grammy Awards.
Ehrlich never thought he would be meeting the press in January 2010 to discuss paying tribute to the late Michael Jackson at the Grammy Awards. The content of the tribute is mostly guarded, but this much is known: It is celebrity packed and in 3-D!
SheKnows: You were involved in the Michael Jackson memorial, which was a pretty intense international event. How do you not come out of that experience and not go over the top with the Grammy’s tribute to Michael Jackson?
Ken Ehrlich: I was privileged to work with Michael a number of times. And, ironically, about a year ago now, we were sitting in a room talking about him performing on last year’s Grammys. They were in talks about the tour, but the tour hadn’t been announced. And you know, he said to me, “Next year.” So it is; this is “next year.” And we’re doing something about Michael, but we’re not doing it with Michael. But in a sense, we are. When I saw him the night before he passed, we were having a meeting about another show– a Halloween project that Michael wanted to do with CBS, as a matter of fact.
SheKnows: You met him at the Staples Center while he was rehearsing This is It to talk Grammys?
Ken Ehrlich: I had gone down just kind of coincidentally to Staples, where he was rehearsing, for a meeting with him. And while I was down there, he was in rehearsal. They were going to show him a 3-D film that a guy that we work with a lot (Rob Wagner) had prepared for the tour that was based on Earth Song. And I just happened to walk in, maybe a few minutes before that, and Michael said, “Come on in. You know I’d love for you to look at this thing with me.” And there were several people standing around, you know, kind of watching this. And I think he had probably seen a couple of versions prior to this, but we watched this about-four-and-a-half-minute film. This was to be a standalone piece.
SheKnows: Sounds like it was Michael’s opportunity to make a statement, as he so enjoyed doing.
Ken Ehrlich: One of the most important elements of the show to him was the opportunity to deliver a really strong message about the environment. I can only tell you — and when you see it, you’ll be able to judge one way or another — this film, and the 3-D in which it was done, it’s pretty brilliant, and it’s pretty wonderful, and it’s consistent with the song. It starts out with some beautiful images of the world and our environment. And you know… Michael’s childlike love for animals, birds and dolphins…
SheKnows: Working with Michael over the years, what struck you the most about the artist (as opposed to the man)?
Ken Ehrlich: It’s very complex. He was such a perfectionist. The first thing that he would ask me for is if my home number had changed, because you never knew when you were going to get a call from him. I just — it was always a challenge, but it was always a welcome challenge, because he was so creative. He just never stopped. And I loved [how] artists like that challenge you, but it always ramps up. It’s always about, you know, being a little better than what we all think we can be.
SheKnows: The Michael Jackson segment of the Grammys is in 3-D. Any chance this type of technology will be applied to future Grammy broadcasts?
Ken Ehrlich: I would love to think that, at some point, we become the first awards show to broadcast the show in 3-D, but that depends on millions and millions of 3-D sets. We know CBS this year was all about 3-D, but we’re probably five years or more away from where there are enough sets, or maybe we do it on two tiers. We would love to.
SheKnows: It must have been easy to get artists to agree to participate in the Michael tribute…
Ken Ehrlich: I think I could probably do a universal quote. Every one of them said that they were honored to be asked to do this.
SheKnows: You have been working with the Grammys for 30 years. On what level of achievement do you put this Michael Jackson 3-D presentation and tribute?
Ken Ehrlich: You know, we set out to make every one of these [things memorable]. And by definition, some are going to be more memorable than others. But this has the potential to be up there with — people ask me which ones are my favorites. Obviously, Prince and Beyonce were kind of earthshaking. Ricky Martin was remarkable. Melissa Etheridge: I don’t think I’ll ever forget that. There are so many of them. But I think that this one certainly has the potential to be pretty memorable.
SheKnows: Lastly, any Grammy Award performances from the January 31 show you think will rock our world?
Ken Ehrlich: All of them, hello [laughs]! I don’t like giving too much away, because I still think there’s some mystery left in television, although not much. You’re probably going to see Lady Gaga with somebody. You’re probably going to see Taylor Swift with somebody. You’re probably going to see a couple of other people with people. We’re working on something now in response to Haiti — pretty emotionally involving and will be a great performance, but I’m not ready to talk about it yet. And you know, it’s just the usual. I’m very pleased with where we are with every performance on the show so far.