Grammy Ratings Disaster, to the Surprise of No One Who Watched

The Grammy telecast has changed over the years. First they threw out the awarding in favor of a live concert. Then they whittled away genres in a quest for down-the-middle mass appeal. Last night the well ran dry…

grammy2By Paul Marszalek

Four minutes into last night’s Grammy telecast, I knew it was going to be a ratings disaster.

While Kendrick Lamar was making a statement, all I could think of was that this was enough to panic a bunch of white people in Kansas to clear the shelves at the local Piggly Wiggly and head into the bunker.

Producer Ken Ehrlich seemed to know that much of his potential audience lives in Fear of a Black Planet, apparently prompting him to have two members of U2 inexplicably walk through Lamar’s performance. It was the first of many WTF moments to come.

Granted, putting together a ratings-winning music show is hardly a gimme. It’s tough to create a Kumbaya moment considering subjective musical tastes and polarizing politics.

But the Academy/CBS team did nothing to help themselves as the ratings dove 24% 18-49 from last year, and an all time ratings low.

Where do you start the post-mortem?

How about with the host?

James Corden is a middling television talent.

Corden has somehow parlayed a singing carpool skit into some sort of Kryptonite, rendering CBS brass hapless in decision-making.

Only an import could create a New York subway sketch so stiff. Can you imagine today’s SNL cast executing something so desperate? It shouldn’t be lost on us that the subway bit itself was something of a ripoff of Fallon’s NYC Subway busking series. Or that Corden’s parents, while I’m sure they’re nice people, are really just a riff on Letterman’s mom. Or that runners-up-get-puppies is really a joke we already saw executed much better in Bridesmaids.

One of two things is true: Either Corden is drinking his own Kool-Aid, or CBS is not giving him writing support.

Why the hell didn’t they just let Chapelle host?

Because Recording Academy boss Neil Portnow and longtime producer Ken Ehrlich are out of touch.

In an otherwise Rock-is-Dead telecast, we got an awful lot of U2 (who were not nominated) and Sting. The National were actually winners, as were Portugal.The Man — and the latter would’ve probably created a few minutes of compelling television.

The buck’s gotta stop with Portnow, who came to NARAS in 2003 from a label career that included Jive Records, where he worked with the likes of Britney Spears and R. Kelly.

He had strong chops as a producer, too. But you had to wonder if a chart-topper mentality was the right fit for a industry non-profit.

In his early years as president, he’d spend a chunk of his televised speech bashing radio, a pretty good friend to artists, because it doesn’t pay a performance royalty to record labels. While I actually agree with Portnow, that radio should pay a such a royalty, we should note that it’s been 16 years and, as of this writing, he still doesn’t have a deal.

Problem with approach, perhaps?

Portnow has also led an Academy that cannot keep its hands off the awards. A few years ago they eliminated a lot of genre categories, because there were “just too many of them.” He didn’t seem to understand that NARAS is a member-supported organization, and member-supported organizations need, well, members. Apparently to Portnow, Zydeco, Folk, and The Blues were kind of the same thing.

Similar category tinkering came back to bite NARAS in the rear last night. In eliminating the gender split categories in favor of the all-inclusive, the law of unintended consequences let men run away with virtually all the major hardware. Timely.

Clearly on the defensive, Portnow today told Variety that women in the music business need to “step-up.” While the comment was part of a larger riff with probably good intentions, the “step-up” excerpt making the rounds is a disaster.

Seems NARAS is indeed a bit tone-deaf. And not just about the tunes.

Filed Under: Actual NewsFeaturedNewsRadio and Records


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  1. geno pearson says:

    You crystallized my thoughts.

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