NBC will mark the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s 1968 “Comeback Special” with “Elvis All-Star Tribute Special,” to air on Sunday, Feb. 17. Participating artists have not yet been announced, other than host Blake Shelton.
The original “Singer Presents…. Elvis” special aired on Dec. 3, 1968 and was sponsored by the sewing machine company. Later known as the “’68 Comeback Special,” the appearance marked Presley’s first live television performance since 1961 and featured the iconic artist, dressed in a black leather jumpsuit, accompanied by his band in the famed, intimate “boxing ring without ropes.” It was shot in front of a studio audience, in-the-round 360-degree style.
“I’ve always wanted to do a tribute to these shows, and the 50th anniversary marks the perfect occasion,” says veteran Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, who also has upcoming specials including “Q85: A Musical Celebration for Quincy Jones” (BET, Dec. 9) and “Pentatonix: A Not So Silent Night) (NBC, Dec. 10) in addition to his usual upcoming duties on “Music’s Greatest Night.” When mega-attorney John Branca approached him a year ago with the idea, Ehrlich jumped right in. “There are only a few moments in television history as iconic,” he says, having previously helmed a special on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
And while the official line-up of performers won’t be announced until next week, expect plenty of the kind of unique stylistic and artist pairings that Ehrlich has become used to.
“We’ve really tried to be as authentic as we could to that original look,” says Ehrlich, who slightly enlarged the original production’s 12 x 12-foot stage on NBC’s Burbank lot to 14 x 14. “I’ve used that in-the-round look on many occasions in my career,” hinting he might even use the technique on this year’s Grammys.
The likes of original director Steve Binder (who is interviewed during the program) and songwriter Mike Stoller were among the invited guests to view the tapings on a sound stage at Universal last month, which was supplemented by set pieces that evoke the original gospel and opera segments, as well as the famous scene set against that flashing neon-lit ELVIS backdrop.
The complete list of performers will be officially announced next year, but the line-up ranges from younger performers to veterans, and more than a fair share of Ken Ehrlich’s famed “mash-ups.”
The 50th anniversary of Elvis’ famed ’68 comeback also included a Fathom Events theatrical run last summer, and Sony Legacy’s just-released box set, “’68 Comeback Special (50th Anniversary Edition),” a five-CD, two Blu-ray package that collects all known audio and video for the first time in one place.