Ken Ehrlich is Happy for Emmy-Nominated Beatles Special, but Grammy Snub Smarts (Q&A)
For veteran music TV producer/director/writer Ken Ehrlich, the morning of the Emmy nominations announcement proved a bittersweet affair.
His CBS special, The Beatles: The Night That Changed America, which aired on February 9, exactly 50 years after the Fab Four’s performance on The Ed Sullivan Show officially introduced them to stateside audiences, picked up six nominations, including two for him as producer and co-writer with David Wild. The show is up in the Outstanding Variety Special category with TNT’s 41st AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Mel Brooks, NBC’s Best of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon Primetime Special, HBO’s Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays, HBO’s Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles and CBS’ The Kennedy Center Honors.
Ehrlich is honored by the recognition, but still a bit perturbed at the Academy’s snub of the Grammy Awards in the Outstanding Special Program slot, where the nominees include competing awards shows like CBS’ Tonys, NBC’s Golden Globes and ABC’s Oscars ceremonies, as well as NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! and the Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremony. With a total of seven nominations, including two this year, Ehrlich has yet to bring home an Emmy.
From the start, it seemed like your people expected The Beatles tribute show to be nominated.
We thought it was a unique show and hoped it would be recognized.
You’re kind of approaching Susan Lucci territory, with seven Emmy nominations and no wins.
You could say that. I would hope that one of these days we’ll get one.
It’s kind of ironic how you’re involved with all these other awards shows, and now the shoe is on the other foot.
I have a great deal of empathy for people I stand next to who don’t get their names called.
You spoke back in February about how much the Beatles meant to you personally.
More than any other musical group, The Beatles have been the narrative to so many people’s lives. I was 21 when I first heard them. Those seven-eight years of The Beatles being embedded in our consciousness were formative for me. My first child was born; I got married in the middle of it. There were so many life events I associate with them, and I think that’s true for anyone of a certain age at that time. They’re what compel me to stay involved with music on television. I can remember living in Chicago, walking into Allied Radio and buying a $79 component stereo system, then going next door to Discount Records to purchase my first Beatles album. The Beatles are a special act not only to our generation, but also subsequent generations. Doing this show was like living out a dream. I’ll never forget the day Paul called, said he’d do it, and what did I have in mind for a set list? It doesn’t get much better than that. And they were all great to work with… Not just Paul and Ringo, but Yoko and Olivia [Harrison], too. Apple Corps are very careful and particular about the projects they’re involved in, so it was really something when they entrusted us with this. And I don’t usually get nervous about shows, but I was about this one. I felt the pressure. I better not f—ck this up.
What kind of show did you have in mind?
A tribute show featuring other artists playing Beatles songs is not necessarily a new thought, especially for us. We wanted to figure out who would be the contemporary translators of who The Beatles were. To book it with an idea towards who could pull those songs off, and do them justice. It’s an awesome responsibility. It was not easy. There were a number of acts we could have had that we didn’t book, because I was worried what they would do to the songs. At the end of the day, I was very pleased with all the performances, some more than others. God knows that crawled inside Dave Grohl’s skin that enabled him to do “Hey, Bulldog.” The thing that really got to me was what each artist said before they played their song. Most of them wrote their own words; we didn’t do it for them. They were honest and real. And it came out of conversations I had with them. Every one of them admitted they wouldn’t be here today, doing what they do, if it weren’t for The Beatles.
Any plans for a DVD release or a rebroadcast?
We’ve talked about doing a DVD, but even now, six months later, we haven’t finalized plans for that. There hasn’t been any talk about rerunning it. These shows live in the moment. Maybe 50 years from now.
What were the reactions from Paul, Ringo, Yoko and Olivia to the show?
Paul and Ringo loved the show and I got a couple of lovely notes from Yoko and Olivia about it, too. We did good by them. We really did. And that was as gratifying as anything.
Some people criticized the amount of reaction shots featuring Paul, Ringo and the families of John and George.
I wanted to let people know how much the four appreciated what the artists were doing for them. I don’t think there was one out-of-synch audience shot. I didn’t steal any from another part of the show. They were all live. We dedicated one camera at all times to a two-shot of Paul and Ringo in real time, which built to the moment the two of them would perform. Maybe it was a bit manipulative, but I felt it conveyed that emotion.
So you’re not happy with the Grammy snub by Emmy voters.
I think we’ve been unfairly treated. It bothers me. Traditionally, we do things first, and other award shows follow us. Talk to other people who work on awards shows, they will tell you, The Grammys are the most complicated, the most difficult, to pull off… It is disappointing that year in and year out, we’ve been nominated, but have never won. I have to be honest, it’s frustrating to me. But hey, at least I’m still working.
What’s up next for you?
We’re doing the third annual Global Citizen Festival on the Great Lawn at Central Park Sept. 27 featuring Jay Z, No Doubt, Carrie Underwood, fun., the Roots and Tiesto, with a campaign to end extreme poverty by 2030. Tickets will be given out to people on a point system, depending on what they contribute to the cause. It will be aired on MSNBC live and that same night, as an hour-long prime-time special on NBC.