It’ll be a New Year’s Countrified Eve on CBS this Dec. 31, as the network has just announced plans to fill the evening with no less than five hours of live country music performances from Nashville, now being plotted by a new production company put together by “CMA Awards” executive producer Robert Deaton and country artist manager Mary Hilliard Harrington.
Titled “New Year’s Eve: Nashville’s Big Bash,” the show will air from 8-11 p.m. ET, then resume after a half-hour local news break for two more hours, from 11:30-1:30 p.m. — a wholly ambitious night of nearly nonstop programming, into the wee hours, from a network that hadn’t tried to be competitive on that night for years.
“I think we’re at 50 performances now,” in the planning stages, Harrington tells Variety. So in other words, the initial artist lineup being rolled out in Thursday’s announcement is a drop in the bucket. “But it’s a pretty good bucket so far,” notes Deaton.
The first list includes about a third of that planned number, with New Year’s Eve plans for Jason Aldean, Jimmie Allen, Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Luke Bryan, Dan + Shay, Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell and the Zac Brown Band all presently accounted for.
“We’re not going to try and be everything to all people,” says Harrington, contrasting their show with existing multi-genre New Year’s Eve TV offerings. “We have a city where the backbone of it is country music. And the event that Butch has built” — meaning Butch Spyridon, president-CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation for the last 30 years — “is electric and it’s young and it’s a party, and the energy is through the roof. So I think that really focusing on country, to country fans, and the city differentiates us immediately, and I think you will feel the difference from the moment you turn the show on.”
In conjunction with the announcement of their first project together, Deaton and Harrington are simultaneously announcing the formation of C.A.M.P., their new production company, which they say will turn out not just live specials but unscripted or scripted or even animated content.
Having five hours to fill on New Year’s Eve (and into the wee hours of New Year’s Day) is good news for some less established Nashville artists, potentially. “Performance-wise, we’re also going to get to do some things with some newer artists that maybe wouldn’t have had a chance to be part of something like this yet,” Harrington says. “When it comes to growing and developing talent, we want to have an impact there — along with being really intentional about leaning on our superstars to carry it and anchor it.”
Nashville has long been a magnet for tourists as well as locals on New Year’s Eve, with a blowout free concert that used to take place on Lower Broadway and eventually moved to Bicentennial Mall Park, in front of the Tennessee state capitol. That park will have the main stage for the TV broadcast, but Broadway will factor back into the equation now, along with other locations around the city. “With drones and spider cams and all that, you’ll really get a sense of the whole downtown area on television,” says Harrington.
Says Deaton, “You know, it’s been swirling around for the last couple of years – is there going to be a TV show? And everything kind of happens at the right time, and this feels like the right time for the show. It feels like it’s ready and the city is ready. I mean, Nashville is the hottest city in America. And we have the best music, and so for us, it’s like everything coming together at the right time. But Mary and I want to give all the credit to getting this event to this stage to Butch.”
Some portions, as with other NYE telecasts, will be pre-recorded, for purposes of running a tight ship and or a safety valve. Notes Harrington, “It’s going to be December, and we have all sorts of potential weather, so we need to tape a couple extra things to have in our back pocket, should we have to call an audible and do some things on the fly.”
In any case, “it’s a pretty big project to take, to do five hours of live television,” points out Harrington, whose day job, so to speak, is as an artist manager at Red Light, repping artists like longtime client Dierks Bentley. “It’s going to make Robert’s CMA Awards seem like nothing, even though three hours (of the CMAs) seems like such a beast.”
“It’s a lot of time to fill,” chuckles Deaton, embracing the understatement.
Not that they expect it to be difficult to get another 35 or so sign-ups. “All the artists are here,” Harrington notes. “And you know, being on the talent side, artists don’t love going to New York or L.A. during the holidays to perform on television. So with them all right here in our backyard, it seems like a really obvious thing to do.”
CBS’ previous history with the holiday included two special “Late Show With David Letterman” episodes in 1994 and 1998, and, at the end of 1999, a special called “America’s Millennium” hosted by Will Smith and Dan Rather. Otherwise, the network had long ceded the space to competitors since an annual broadcast titled “Happy New Year, America” ended its 1979-1995 run.