Forget head butting men in tights; the most memorable clashes of Super Bowl XXXV may involve the entertainment. CBS has hired the Backstreet Boys to croon the National Anthem and — in a savvy display of corporate synergy — they’ve got MTV, another Viacom owned company, producing the Jan. 28 halftime show featuring the boy band’s rivals ‘N Sync, as well as Britney Spears, Mary J. Blige, and Aerosmith.
MTV’s done its share of megaconcert broadcasts (like Woodstock ’99 and Live Aid) but it has never before been involved in the globally hyped sporting event. However, the music network plans to put its stamp on the annual football championship, which will be held at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and is likely to be watched by some 750 million people worldwide. ”I don’t think [last year’s halftime creator] Disney would have been knocking down Steve Tyler’s door,” Alex Coletti, a producer for MTV, tells EW.com. ”The show totally is about who we are.”
Unlike previous halftime organizers, MTV has opted not to give the 11 minute entertainment break a specific theme. (Perhaps they learned a lesson from six time producer Disney, whose 2000 ”Tapestry of Nations” extravaganza suffered much post game heckling from critics.) Instead, the network is hiring local extras to pose as fans to create the look of a genuine rock show on the football field. ”In years past, you always get cheerleaders and marching bands, and we’re more of a mosh pit kind of place,” says Coletti. ”The whole thing we want to do, in the flick of a switch, is turn that sporting event into a rock and roll concert.”
Coordinating the mini rockathon will be tricky, though. The bands have three days of studio rehearsal time this week — but they have a scant six hours to practice assembling the show on the actual football field. ”It’s nerve racking,” says Coletti, ”especially for my staging guys. There’s going to be a game going on. The stage is in pieces, and it’s got to fit through the stadium tunnels, which aren’t huge. It’s got to go together in the time of a commercial break. It’s a real science.” Even the set list is uncertain, he says. Each group has ideas about which song they will perform, but ”when we finally get the two bands together, I’m sure we’ll have to start all over again.”
Coletti brags that the network’s rock show know how helped convince ‘N Sync and Aerosmith to participate. ”Joe Perry told me, ‘When we got the phone call we said no way.’ But after they heard it was us producing, they had a band meeting and said, ‘Sure we’ll do it,”’ says Coletti. Of course, the chance to promote their first album in nearly four years, ”Just Push Play” [due this spring], probably also appealed to Tyler and co. Don’t be surprised if they choose to perform their first single, ”Jaded.” ”What’s better than showing [a new song] to the world during the Super Bowl?” says Coletti.
Likewise, the show’s combination of hard rock and teen pop is a potential bonus for CBS and the National Football League. Ad buyers are predicting a 4 percent decline in ratings for the game (compared to last year’s), but Paul Schulman of Schulman/ AdvanswersNY thinks this halftime show could help reduce that slide. While Aerosmith grabs the attention of the NFL’s beer swilling core audience, ‘N Sync and Spears may tease hefty numbers out of the far more fickle teen crowd. ”The toughest audience in the world is between ages 12 and 24,” says Schulman. ”The only way to keep them lassoed to the screen is to offer the biggest acts for their age group.” Sorry, BBMak.