Two music legends, two specials and some behind-the-scenes drama surrounding them.
I have learned that for months, CBS, The Recording Academy and Ken Ehrlich Prods. had been working with Quincy Jones and his team on a Grammy primetime special to air in Q4 and mark his 85th birthday.
Meanwhile, it was revealed shortly after Aretha Franklin’s death August 16 that music producer Clive Davis for months had been planning a concert in Franklin’s honor to take place November 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York. I hear the show, done in partnership with Live Nation, had been envisioned as the first of a series of live events branded as Clive Davis Presents that originally were not going to be televised. Following the Queen of Soul’s passing, I hear the concert grew in scope and the producers took it out as a TV special.
As the Franklin special is being shopped, I hear CBS, The Recording Academy and Ehrlich recently informed Jones and his team the network would not be going forward with the special in his honor. It had been earmarked as the next Grammy special under CBS’ deal with The Recording Academy for the Grammy Awards. Ehrlich has been one of CBS and the Academy’s go-to producers and has executive produced a number of Grammy Awards and Grammy specials.
The explanation for the decision differs depending who you talk to. Reps for CBS and Jones declined comment for this story. According to sources close to the network, at the outset, CBS and its partners on the project, working with Jones’ team, put together a wish list of big names to invite to the celebration. Half of them turned down the offer, a few who had expressed interest also fell out, and some were interested but wanted more information about the creative and their participation.
According to sources, the deadline to lock in the event, which had been in development, was originally two months ago, with CBS extending it twice. After a couple more prospective attendees withdrew at the end of last week, the network and its partners felt there were not enough A-list names for a primetime special worthy of Jones’ legacy. Because the iconic producer and his team were looking to do the special by the end of 2018 — the year he turned 85 — CBS, The Recording Academy and Ehrlich opted not to proceed with it. (There is no hard rule when CBS should air Grammy specials, and while a number have run in Q4, some, including the Bee Gees and Beatles tributes, have aired in January-April.) Sources close to Jones’ camp dispute that account. Word is that Oprah Winfrey, Will Smith and Eddie Murphy — who all have longstanding relationships with Jones — are among a number of big-name stars who had committed to the special.
Multiple sources questioned the timing of the decision to scrap the Jones special as CBS is pursuing the Franklin one, alluding that the two may be connected. Sources close to CBS are adamant the two are not related, and the network would’ve gone after the Franklin special even if the network was proceeding with the Jones tribute. I hear for now there are no plans to turn the Franklin concert into a Grammy-branded special, should CBS get it, but the option is said to be on the table.
As for the Jones special, I hear that shortly after CBS released the project, Jones and his team brought in another seasoned live TV events producer, Don Mischer, and the event was taken out, drawing interest from both traditional networks, including BET, and streaming platforms. I hear a deal elsewhere is imminent.