Anniversary show clears writers strike hurdle

I learned a lot about unions and labor laws,” is Recording Academy prexy Neil Portnow’s comment on his life over the last two months, time usually focused strictly on dealing with talent, managers and TV producers as the annual Grammy telecast is assembled.

This year’s Grammy telecast is a crucial one: It’s the awards show’s 50th anniversary, and the last thing organizers needed was a glitch in their preparations caused by the writers strike. It took some time, some extra chats with the creative community and some PR efforts — statements from musicians and unions that support the Grammys — but the Recording Academy was freed of potential roadblocks a full two weeks before the show.

“We’re a little behind in announcing talent, but we’re not behind the eight ball, whether it’s tents for arrivals or having bottled water in place,” Portnow tells Daily Variety heading into the final week of preparations.

Key in this year’s ceremony are what the org has called “Grammy moments,” pairings of acts that would not be seen elsewhere. There’s a performance by the Foo Fighters with a 15-member orchestra, created for the show, that will be conducted by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones; a reunion of the Time performing with Rihanna; the casts of “Across the Universe” and “Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil” doing Beatles tunes; and a gospel segment that includes Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige and others.

“It’s a platform for artists to do what they wouldn’t ordinarily do, a chance to really stretch,” Portnow says. “Many are predisposed to (hearing these ideas). It’s part of the normal creative process. Some responses are immediate and they embrace the idea, some are a little more tentative. (Luckily), the music community has a certain level of trust in us so they hear us out.”

The challenge for the 50th anniversary show, he says, is to pay tribute to the past and “not minimize or give short shrift to music made” in 2007.

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