EW.com talked to Jack Sussman, CBS’ exec VP of specials and live events, about the last-minute cancellation by Rihanna and Chris Brown, what was up with Justin Timberlake and Al Green, whether the show was ready in case M.I.A. gave birth on stage, and more. Here’s the scoop.
When did you learn that Rihanna and Chris Brown weren’t going to make it?
The Grammy production team was knee deep in rehearsals at the Staples Center when they first got the call between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Sunday about the no-shows (Rihanna was supposed to immediately follow U2 with a medley of “Disturbia” and “Live Your Life” while Brown was going to sing “Forever” before Kid Rock’s performance). “Beyond thinking, I hope they’re okay, it immediately goes out of your mind because you’re too busy thinking about what to do next,” says Sussman. Justin Timberlake had just finished rehearsing his duet with T.I. when the team approached him in his dressing room about filling Rihanna’s spot with a brand new act. “Justin’s first words were, ‘what can I do to help?’” recalls Sussman. “That’s what you want to hear.” It was Timberlake’s idea to perform with Al Green, since the two Memphis natives had once performed “Let’s Stay Together” — and Green was already in town to present an award with Duffy. The veteran crooner was literally in his hotel bathtub when he got the call to rush to rehearsals, where he and Timberlake had less than two hours to prepare (Brown’s performance was not replaced).
Was it true you had a gurney waiting on the side of the stage while M.I.A., who is set to give birth any day now, was performing?
“She went into contractions when the show went on the air and she was not supposed to go on until act 8!” says Sussman. “I asked her to just hang on until 10 ET. The kid’s a gamer…and by the way, the gurney is always there. Every once in a while, someone falls.”
Why didn’t Whitney Houston perform?
“We only talked about her being a presenter,” says Sussman.
Did we hear Kanye West correctly? Did Bob Newhart win a Grammy for best new artist?
Yes, the running tally is: Newhart, one Best New Artist Grammy, Kanye West, none. Newhart won for “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” in 1960. West has won several Grammys, including Best Rap Album, but never Best New Artist.
Why so much rap and country in the show?
“I called it my musical sardine can,” says Sussman. “You want to make the show embraceable for lots of people, not just niche audiences. We’re a broadcast network TV show, not a narrow-cast cable music show.”
Did you cut categories to make room for more music? For instance, Katy Perry performed “I Kissed a Girl” but her category — Best Female Pop Vocal Performance — didn’t air.
“Every year it’s different,” Sussman said. “Outside of the four or five major awards, the other awards change every year. And performing is better than actually having your category on air. People won’t remember who won best R&B album, but they will remember Jennifer Hudson’s performance.”
Was there an unprecedented number of acts?
Yes, says Sussman — 24 in total!