TV Review: ‘The Kennedy Center Honors’

The Kennedy Center Honors TV Review

Broadcast TV’s classiest event carries some additional benefits for CBS this year, with future “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert emceeing the 37th annual Kennedy Center Honors, and even engaging in an amusing bit of mid-show business with David Letterman, on hand to honor Tom Hanks. Beyond that, the presentation was marked by the usual mix of glowing tributes, occasionally odd performances and fantastic reaction shots, like watching the assembled luminaries (including the first couple) participate in an impromptu sing-along of honoree Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” For CBS, this pre-New Year’s telecast remains a golden oldie that’s worth keeping around.

As usual, the Kennedy Center lineup offered a hodgepodge of disciplines, with Sting, Lily Tomlin and ballerina Patricia McBride rounding out the inductees. And as is also customary, while the musical artists don’t require a lot of thought – in Sting’s case, fascinating covers of his work by Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Esperanza Spalding and Bruno Mars (his take on “Message in a Bottle” is a particular highlight) – the others require a bit of creativity, which can easily turn into a hit-miss affair.

In Tomlin’s case, for example, the presentation included heartfelt spoken tributes from Jane Fonda, Reba McEntire, Jane Lynch and “Saturday Night Live’s” Kate McKinnon. For Hanks, it started well enough with a cover of the jaunty song from his movie “That Thing You Do,” then degenerated into Martin Short singing a rewritten version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” with seemingly as many people on stage dancing and singing as there were in the audience.

As crowd-pleasing as that might have been within the hall, it felt strangely overblown, especially after Steven Spielberg’s eloquent praise of Hanks for engendering a “never-ending supply of trust” with his audience, which conveyed the essence of the actor-producer’s Everyman qualities without all the pyrotechnics.

For his part, Colbert opened with a few well-chosen, reasonably safe jokes (“No matter what party you belong to, everybody wants a selfie with Tom Hanks”), and came back to wrap up the festivities; still, his presence was more symbolic than anything else – not just showing him off to the assembled elites, but signaling his willingness to be a team player in helping promote his new program, and how smoothly CBS intends to orchestrate this baton pass. (The telecast, incidentally, didn’t acknowledge the exit of longtime producer George Stevens Jr., who announced his departure at the event.)

Ultimately, any criticisms of the Kennedy Center Honors are trumped by the genuine feelings of warmth and appreciation the evening conveys, as well as the happy faces of the honorees and sheer amusement of watching many of the celebrities in attendance behave like fans at a One Direction concert. Besides, how many programs dare to aim squarely at a baby-boomer-and-older demo?

“Why do we need to thank our artists?” Meryl Streep asked, by way of introducing the Sting segment.

Although she offered a sort-of answer, the simple one is that when you do it right, it can be a lot of fun to watch.

TV Review: 'The Kennedy Center Honors'

(Special; CBS, Tue. Dec. 30, 9 p.m.)


Produced by the Stevens Co. in association with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


Producers, George Stevens Jr., Michael Stevens; co-executive producers, Bill Urban, Danette Herman, Sara Lukinson; director, Louis J. Horvitz; writers, Lukinson, Lewis Friedman, Nell Scovell, Michael Stevens, George Stevens Jr.; music directors, Rob Mathes, Rob Berman; editor, Michael Polito. 120 MIN.


Host: Stephen Colbert. Honorees: Al Green, Tom Hanks, Patricia McBride, Sting, Lily Tomlin

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  1. Making rude remarks about the Honorees, because your choice was not honored will accomplish nothing. Even though you did not think the person deserved it does not make it so. They went though the process and succeeded. They deserve it because they were chosen. So please give them the respect that they deserve. Best wishes to all of the 2014 Honorees.

    • goodbyenoway says:

      That’s complete nonsense. There isn’t any “process” and even if there was does that mean that an unfair result means you have to “respect it?” What a completely silly response. There are far more and richly deserving artists who are being passed over for mediocrities that are known to the TV audience. Everyone acknowledges this. It’s a travesty for a once great awards program.

  2. William Vick says:

    When will this program air again?

  3. Bob Rhodes says:

    I wonder if Jerry Lewis will ever be honored?

  4. Mike says:

    Why was there no mention of the departure of Caroline Kennedy as hostess after all these years? Colbert should have at least mentioned her.

  5. Skeff says:

    Not all people from the arts accept this honor either. I’m not at all shocked Tom is before Gene Hackman (90% of the time a supporting character, not to say he isn’t great). Duvall, debatable. Regardless, most of these names Goodbyenoway is whining for have in fact earned the “highest” award already – the National Medal of Arts.

    If you’re looking for an award that really seems to have tripped over their own shoelaces, it’s the Mark Twain award. Tina Fey is award it in 2010 and Will Ferrell in 2011 (not to discredit their talent or what they have done, but others have done more and made a deeper impact). Being that is yet another award that is given to only to the living – except for George Carlin and only because he was already decided before passing – people like the late Robin Williams will never get that recognition they should have had years ago.

  6. Goodbyenoway says:

    If you could read, you’d see I already provided 6-8 names of artists more deserving.

  7. Goodbyenoway says:

    The point is, duh, that there are older and far more deserving honorees than this sad pathetic bunch.

  8. Cath says:

    You realize that Tom Hanks is the “young one” in this group at 58. McBride is 72. Tomlin is 75. Green is 68. Sting is 63. Gee, I bet they would be happy to be thought of as youngsters, but I guess compared to Olivia de Havilland at 98 they are.

  9. Goodbyenoway says:

    This was the worst group of honorees ever. They continue to honor younger and younger artists over older legends. It’s wrong. Tom Hanks? Before Robert Duvall? Gene Hackman? Seriously? Where’s Olivia de Havilland? Sting instead of Joni Mitchell? Al Green instead of Carole King? Lily Tomlin instead of Jerry Lewis? It’s not to be taken seriously.

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