WASHINGTON (AP) — Producers who have created the Tony Awards show for the past 12 years will be given a “clean slate” and a mandate to update the “Kennedy Center Honors,” marking a new direction for the CBS broadcast for the first time in nearly four decades.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Tuesday that Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment in New York City will produce this year’s “Honors” show. Beyond the Tony Awards, the pair has produced the Emmy Awards, Super Bowl Halftime Shows and other TV events.
The Kennedy Center Honors are entering their 38th year and are billed as the nation’s highest awards for influencing American culture through the arts. The president and first lady salute the honorees for the lifetime achievement award each year, along with top performers from Hollywood, Broadway and the arts world.
Last year’s winners included Tom Hanks, Sting and Lily Tomlin. The show, hosted by Stephen Colbert, drew 9.25 million viewers, compared with about 7 million for the Tony Awards. The show also raises millions of dollars for the arts center.
Still, the “Honors” show that began in 1978 was due for a makeover, officials said. In some ways the broadcast looks more classic and dated than other awards shows. This year, viewers should expect an updated look.
“We’re starting from scratch,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter. “The only thing that will be absolutely the same is that we will have five honorees, and it will take place on a Sunday in December at the Kennedy Center — and the president will be involved. It will be a fresh, new approach.”
The set and design will likely be replaced, and the look and feel of the TV production may change. It’s still early in the planning stages and too soon to discuss specific changes, the new producers said.
“It’s such a great, classy, wonderful show and one of the really great ones still on television,” Weiss said. “We’re not about coming in here saying this needs to be destroyed to be rebuilt. We’re saying we totally appreciate and respect what it’s been. Let’s do this a little differently now.”
The team took a similar approach when they began producing the Tony Awards, Kirshner said.
“It was very important to us to not lose the core audience but to freshen up the show, make it a little different. And it’s important on the ‘Honors’ not to lose the core audience,” he said. “So it’s not to get cooler or hipper or this or that. It’s to take the existing format and just freshen it up a bit.”
CBS has broadcast the show since its inception and has been working closely with the arts center on the changes being planned. Jack Sussman, head of specials and live events for CBS, said it’s important to respect the show’s history to maintain its integrity.
“As viewers change, as demographics change, as viewers’ viewing habits change, we look to change every show from year to year. This one’s no different,” Sussman said. “This is one of the great events for television, celebrating the arts in America, and a whole new generation needs to find it year in and year out.”
George Stevens Jr., the founding producer of the “Kennedy Center Honors,” surprised everyone at the last show by announcing from the stage that he was being pushed out at the end of his contract. But he issued a statement Tuesday, wishing the new producers well.
Rutter said it’s important for the show to take on a more contemporary approach.
“It’s about style and approach,” Rutter said. “I don’t want people to think of us as a museum where you go to see something that doesn’t speak to our world today. I want it to have a contemporary feel.”
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