Grammys tries a live mash-up

It’s not a true trophy show (no awards are handed out) nor is it a pure prime-time concert special (the music stops every few minutes as envelopes are unsealed), so viewers aren’t to blame if they can’t quite get a bead on the breathlessly named “Grammy Nominations Concert Live: Countdown to Music’s Biggest Night” which airs Wednesday on CBS.

This is the fourth edition of the spinoff show and executive producer Ken Ehrlich concedes that the show is still searching a bit for its identity, although the network is plenty happy to have an all-star music event to break up the post-Thanksgiving leftover diet of weeknight repeats.

“It’s still establishing itself, it’s a little different of an animal,” Ehrlich said. “Essentially, with the Grammys show that airs every February, people know they want to watch to see what people do. We’re trying to head this show in that direction and I don’t think we really did it in the first three years. I think we were trying to find ourselves. I really believe with this year’s show we’re headed on that road.”

Last year’s program drew just 5 million total viewers, down 20% compared with the previous year’s telecast, according to Nielsen. The show clung to barely half the viewership from its lead-in, a repeat of the drama “Criminal Minds.” The Grammy noms telecast has dropped significantly in each of its three airings since it started in 2008.


This year’s show will again be hosted by LL Cool J and it features performances by Lady Gaga, Usher, Ludacris, Rihanna and Sugarland. The vibe will be quite different in the room -- the show will be staged at the 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre and open up to the public (tickets are $35 to $75) after two years at adjacent Club Nokia, which had only 2,200 seats that left limited room for anyone outside the music industry.

The show’s great challenge is the obvious anti-climactic nature of reading out nominees and then reminding the audience that they can find out who wins by tuning in ... next year. The “real” Grammys are Feb. 12, and while that is a long way off, the show this Wednesday will offer a glimpse into the story lines to expect.

One of the big names on Wednesday night will be a star who won’t be in the room -- expect to hear the name Adele over and over after the cross-genre and cross-generational success of the 23-year-old British singer-songwriter. Many observers believe she could be poised for an avalanche of awards not unlike the historic romps by Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones, each of whom left the Grammy stage with bouquets of gramophone trophies for their breakthrough solo albums.

Adele underwent throat surgery on Nov. 7 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to stop bleeding on a benign polyp on her vocal cords, and Grammy producers hope that the Feb. 12 broadcast will be her big return to the public spotlight -- but they are also privately anxious that some medical setback might give them a star who can’t sing on her spotlight night. Ehrlich (who is celebrating his 30th anniversary with the Grammys) and his team are already in contact with Adele’s managers and keeping tabs on her recovery.


For the nomination show this Wednesday, the big draw is Gaga, whom Ehrlich compares to a Madonna or David Bowie as far as being a shape-changing creature of fashion and music trend.

The nomination concert is now an established part of the award-show circuit and falls less than two weeks after the American Music Awards. While the AMAs are veering further toward the MTV model of anything-goes in the name of product and project promotion (during her AMAs performance this year Jennifer Lopez brought a Fiat on stage with her), the producers of the Grammy nomination concert are aiming for more gravitas.

In an effort to expand the nomination show’s mission -- and perhaps signaling that it will become a mini-Grammys at some point -- the Wednesday night broadcast will feature a tribute to songwriters who died this year. With two facing pianos, Usher will perform with Valerie Simpson of the duo Ashford and Simpson, and Mike Stoller of the songwriting team Leiber and Stoller, as a tribute to their recently lost partners. The number will feature “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Stand by Me.”

Also, in another nod to the past, LL Cool J, Common, Lupe Fiasco and Rick Ross will perform the rap classic “The Message” with Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel and Scorpio, a hip-hop moment that ties into the 1982 track being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.