In a fraught moment of political protest across the country, the live mic at televised award shows has become a potent weapon.
Ehrlich has no reservations about political messages or anti-President Trump statements flying during CBS’ three and a half hour Grammycast. Artists expressing passionate opinions about real-life issues are the stuff of memorable moments, he said.
“One of the tenets of our show is artistic freedom, and over the years we’ve shown we do believe in it,” Ehrlich told Variety. “How many more times do we need to hear ‘I’d like to thank my publicist, my agent, my wife and kids.’ The great acceptance speeches are ones that have a point of view and are more personal.”
The only guidelines on speech that Ehrlich has to keep an eye (and ear) on is profanity, given the potential for CBS to be hit with FCC fines if F-bombs fly before 10 p.m. But almost everything else is fair game.
“One of the things I’ve learned from working with artists for 40 years is that they are deep-thinking, vital individuals who have interests that cover a broad cover a broad spectrum of subjects and passions,” he said. “We should certainly allow for it on the broadcast.”
Ehrlich notes that the Grammy Awards as an institution has addressed issues of social justice and equality on the telecast in recent years.
In 2014, rapper Macklemore was given a big showcase for his plea to end homophobia and misogny in hip-hop. The same telecast featured en masse weddings of 33 gay and straight couples to make a statement about same-sex marriage. The following year, the Grammycast focused on the problem of rape on college campuses, giving a rape survivor chance to address the audience, followed by a video from President Obama and a performance by Katy Perry.
Ehrlich, who is in his 37th year of producing the Grammys and just extended his deal through 2020, emphasized that those segments would not have happened without the support of the Recording Academy, notably from president Neil Portnow, and the CBS team led by specials and event programming czar Jack Sussman. The high-wire act of producing a live telecast with so many forceful personalities hinges on the trust built up over many years.
“This is a real team,” Ehrlich said. “We all work on a lot of shows, but I’d like to think when we come together every year for this one, it’s really special.”