Don Mischer, Super Bowl halftime producer


When National Football League executives approach a superstar about playing the coveted Super Bowl halftime show, they voice a sentiment the act has likely never heard before: You are not the main attraction.

"We say, '(The people) aren't there primarily for you, they're there for the game," NFL vp programming Charles Coplin says. "(You) are a focal point of the day and week but not the focal point of the day and week."

Not surprisingly, few artists have a problem with that. With upward of 141 million people watching football's biggest game

"There are a lot of things that go into picking a performer," Coplin says. Among them, "Is their catalog familiar? Are they touring? Do they resonate with the largest audience possible from the grandkids to the grandparents?" With Prince, the answer was a resounding yes.

Meetings with Prince began in May. "When you talk to someone who's interested in doing this, the first thing you say to an artist is there are limitations," says Don Mischer, whose Don Mischer Prods. is producing the Super Bowl entertainment with Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment. There's time (the performance is only 12 minutes), the artist is not paid and the logistics are demanding. On the plus side, of course, the gig is "the highest-profile entertainment slot you can have on American television," Mischer notes. The game airs in 234 countries and territories, according to the NFL.

"Prince, in my experience, is an unusual artist who has an uncanny instinct that allows him to guide his own career and continue to take it to new heights," says David Renzer, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, which oversees Prince's music copyrights. "Millions of viewers of the Super Bowl will be exposed to his unique genius, thus allowing him to continue to tour and pack audiences into his '3121' show in Las Vegas, etc." (Prince is the latest artist to call Sin City home: 3121, a club named after his last album, opened at the Rio last fall. Prince performs at the venue on weekends.)

Renzer notes that the Super Bowl gives UMPG a chance to remind the industry of Prince's legacy. "We'll launch a marketing effort around this performance to the film, TV and advertising communities to remind them of his incredible body of work," he says.

While details of Prince's performance are a secret, Weiss reveals that the Purple One's act will be "one 12-minute piece. That definitely does not mean one song, but it's created as one performance rather than songs that end and another begins."

Since Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction" three years ago, the NFL has kept a tighter rein on the show. "We learned a couple of things," Coplin says. "We needed to get producers we felt very comfortable with, (and) we needed to have a creative collaboration, not take over, but be involved in every area of the show."

Indeed, Weiss says he, Kirshner and Mischer have seen Prince perform live a number of times over the past several months. "We have a grip on every minute of his performance," he says.

This year marks Mischer's fourth Super Bowl halftime show. The first was in 1993, when the show featured Michael Jackson. Mischer was brought back in 2005 for McCartney and 2006 for the Stones. "It was the NFL's idea to use Michael," Mischer recalls. "The year before, the Wayans brothers said during the (Doritos Zaptime/ 'In Living Color') halftime show to switch over to Fox to 'In Living Color' and then turn back to the game." The game was lopsided -- fans flipped channels to "Color" and never went back. "At that point, the NFL said we better start putting a big-name act in at halftime," Mischer says.

The logistics of putting on the show are daunting given the time constraints. Plus, there is the Super Bowl's golden rule: Thou shalt not damage the field. "The real power in the NFL belongs to the (person) in charge of the field," Mischer says. "We don't want to hurt a blade of grass. Our main objective is to do a really great show, but we know we have to completely and unequivocally protect the turf. If we go out there and leave a wrench or a bolt or a nut on the 30-yard line, that would be a disaster."

The talent also comes in second to the teams when it comes to field time: Prince will run through his show in the stadium only once before he performs on Sunday.

The hard labor began several weeks ago. On a college campus outside of Miami, about 600 volunteers spent four days a week taking the giant stage apart, putting it in a line similar to how it will be transported into the stadium and assembling it back together. After three weeks of rehearsals, the stage was trucked to a tent outside the stadium for more rehearsals.

The preshow is only slightly less nerve-wracking. This year, the NFL decided on the seemingly disparate pairing of football and the modern-day circus. "We thought (we'd) do something different and not just plop down talented musicians as has been done in the past," Weiss says. "Cirque du Soleil has been very successful in coming up with innovative entertainment, and we're hoping to harness that power." Cirque will perform alongside painter Romero Britto, who is known for his use of bright colors, reminiscent of the scheme present in the area.

The wild card, of course, is the weather. "If they can play football, we have to put on a show," Mischer says. "If there are near-hurricane-strength winds, and they play football, we have to put on a show. If they're playing in the mud, we have to put our show on."

After the game, Coplin says he measures the success of the halftime show in numerous ways. To be sure, he looks to see if eyeballs stayed tuned, but he also examines feedback from NFL fans and the media, as well as how the performers felt. "Does that artist feel that his association with the NFL was great, that it was one of the greatest moments of their careers? If they walk away feeling that, it only helps us in the future."

Great expectations
Mischer stages global extravaganzas for a living

Don Mischer grew up in Texas, so maybe it's just in his nature to think big.

Regardless of the reason, the director-producer is the man behind some of television's most iconic moments, from Michael Jackson's career-defining, exhilarating moon walk to Muhammad Ali's inspiring ascent to light the Olympic cauldron at the 1996 ceremony in Atlanta.

Mischer also has produced 22 Kennedy Center Honors, nine Primetime Emmy Awards, the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2004 Democratic National Convention. On Sunday, he co-produces his fourth Super Bowl preshow and halftime program. From there, he moves to the opening ceremonies of the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai. In addition to such megaevents, he's helmed specials for such performers as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Cher, Garry Shandling, Robin Williams and Stevie Wonder.

It all started 30 years ago with a Barbra Streisand TV special, and from there, Mischer, whose Don Mischer Prods. is based in Los Angeles, was hooked.

Thirteen Primetime Emmys and nine DGA Awards later, Mischer says his heart still pounds before an event like the opening of the Olympics. "You see the clock counting down -- 9-8-7-6 -- 80% of the planet is going to be seeing what you do. There's the sheer terror and a pure adrenaline rush."

A theme that runs through his most successful productions is an element of surprise. "If people know what's coming, their minds will create imagery that's really hard to live up to. It's all about expectations," he says.

And Mischer is willing to go to extreme degrees to keep a secret. An example is when Ali carried the torch at the 1996 games. The initial meeting with Ali's representative took place in a concrete garbage room underneath the stadium. That same stealth attitude played into the rehearsal as well. "There were only five people who knew Ali was appearing," he recalls. "We rehearsed with him at 3 a.m. two weeks earlier. We used flashlights, released all the security."

There also are times when magic happens as a result of breaking the rules.

In 1983, Mischer produced "Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever" with Suzanne de Passe. The two had agreed that all artists were to perform songs from their era at Motown, with Jackson slated to reunite with his brothers for some Jackson 5 classics. As negotiations dragged on, "Michael said, 'If I can't do one new song, I don't think I'm going to come back and play with my brothers,'" Mischer recalls. So, the rules were broken for Jackson; he performed the moon walk during "Billie Jean," and history was made.

Along the way, there have been notable mishaps, such as when gale-force winds in Hong Kong's harbor ripped both a 22-story-high inflatable pearl and its replacement before the 1997 celebration heralding the handover of Hong Kong to China. In a similar vein, too many people in the wrong place made it unsafe to shoot off the pyrotechnics at the 1996 Olympics, and the balloons didn't drop during the finale at the Democratic National Convention. Mischer admits the gaffes sometimes dog him for days, but then he quickly moves on.

"All I know is there's never a shortage of things to worry about," he says. "Part of your job is you wake up at night and anticipate and try to have some system for fixing what can go wrong." It's clear that Mischer wouldn't want it any other way.