The Grammy Awards, which typically get no respect from the Television Academy, have launched an Emmy campaign in an attempt to get Emmy voters to recognize an historic year for what Grammy staffers say is the biggest, most difficult awards show of all.
The tricky part is that one of the things that made the 2012 Grammys stand out is that they took place a little more than 24 hours after the death of Whitney Houston – and by drawing attention to the way in which the show responded to that event, Grammy organizers run the risk of appearing to use the tragedy as a campaign tactic.
At an event at the Television Academy in North Hollywood on Monday night, 32-time Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich admitted that he had never before done any kind of campaigning for the show.
Over the years, the Grammys have been nominated for 55 Emmys, but have only won 17, short of the 19 won by the Tonys and the Kennedy Center Honors, and far short of the 46 won by the Oscars.
"It is definitely the hardest show that I've ever done," said director Louis J. Horvitz, a veteran of numerous Oscars, Kennedy Center Honors and other awards shows. "It's like a bullet train: 5,4,3,2,1, and you just hope to come out the other end and arrive in one piece."
Although it is the largest-scale production, usually staged in the enormous Staples Center and consisting of two dozen often-lavish performances and only about 10 awards, the Grammys have never won the top award in the genre, Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special — or the current category in which they compete, Best Special Class Program.
The Kennedy Center Honors have won seven times, including the last three in a row in their category; the Tonys have won four times and the Oscars twice.
"Obviously we'd like to have you consider us when you vote," said Ehrlich (right, with Recording Academy president Neil Portnow) to a theater full of voters on Monday night. "We have been nominated before, and not won."
The idea, he said, came out of a meeting with CBS executives, who said, "Look, you have a great story to tell this year."
In addition to reacting to the death of Whitney Houston, this year's show included the first performance of Adele after microsurgery on her throat, and a jam session on the medley that ends the Beatles' "Abbey Road" album, with Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Joe Walsh.
The show attracted 39 million viewers and beat the Oscars in the ratings for the first time.
To tell that story, Ehrlich prepared a 26-minute film, entitled "A Death in the Family: The Grammys Show Goes On," recapping the events of February, in which show officials learned of Houston's death late the afternoon before the show.
After screening the film, which is also available to Emmy voters online and to the public at grammy.com, Ehrlich participated in a lengthy Q&A with Horvitz, host LL Cool J, Grohl, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, co-producer Terry Lickona and talent producer Chantel Sausedo. It was moderated by the show's writer, David Wild, who called the Grammys "far and away the most ambitious event of the year."
The film focuses on how well the Grammy staff responded to the death of Houston, which at times made it feel vaguely exploitative. It also pushes hard for Academy recognition for LL Cool J's performance as host, and tries to emphasize how difficult the show always is to pull off. (Below, Grohl and LL Cool J.)
"It can be, at its best, a document of record about what music is," said Ehrlich.
"I think of it as a celebration of music," added Lickona, who went so far as to suggest that the awards themselves aren't always that important at the Grammys – that some artists, in fact, "are almost embarrassed when they win."
This immediately caught LL Cool J's attention. "Embarrassed when you win?" he asked, incredulous. "Who feels that way?"