For the past three years, the broadcast rights for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies have belonged to the FUSE Network. That contract has been fulfilled, and eyes are focused on which network will win the broadcast rights for next year’s ceremonies. People who follow the goings-on at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame have overall been less than impressed with FUSE’s treatment of the induction ceremonies these past three years, the worst of which was the 2011 induction ceremonies. But looking at the three past ceremonies also requires looking at the classes of inductees themselves, the presenters, who’s attending, etc. With that, the following suggestions are made for the next network that wins the broadcast rights for the ceremonies, things to keep in mind. Network execs, take notice.
1. You’re most likely a premium cable/satellite network.
Seriously think about the implications of this. Television itself is nearly universal. Basic cable or satellite services are also more common than not. Premium services, on the other hand, nowhere near as much. On top of which, the sheer number of channels available means the pie is divided even more ways. Additionally, they have to pay extra money just to get your channel. So if someone’s tuning in to watch a special, incredibly unique event on your channel, they’re expecting primo treatment, and you’d better deliver. This is something that needs to be an overarching paradigm when considering the other factors involved with this specific program. The people at the FUSE Network failed on this aspect horrendously in their broadcast of the 2011 ceremonies when their presentation was almost stylistically identical to the presentations of past ceremonies that would air on VH1, a basic cable channel. If you’re not going to outdo a basic cable chop-and-splice mish-mash, make way for someone who will.
2. Don’t cheapen their interest in the subject matter.
If they’re interested enough to watch a premium network’s live presentation, they probably have a serious interest in the subject matter. This is true of those who watch the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies. In this case, they may have their favorite inductees, but they have at least some interest in ALL the inductees, why they’re worthy of induction, the performances, etc. Cover it! 2011 was a tremendous disaster in this regard with the clips of performing interwoven with the speeches, but worst of all was the treatment of the Non-Performer inductees (a.k.a. the Ahmet Ertegun Award recipients). All of the speeches were edited, but what aired of John Densmore’s speech for Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman was a couple sentences at best, that of Jac Holzman’s acceptance speech was even less, and Judy Collins’ performance of “Both Sides Now” in tribute to Holzman saw but a few bars aired. And Specialty Records founder Art Rupe? Ignored outright. No airing of any part of Lloyd Price’s induction speech, no words from those accepting on behalf of the late Rupe, and only a bar or two of “Stagger Lee” as the tribute to him. Just because he’s no longer with us doesn’t mean he didn’t exist to the world of rock ‘n’ roll, and those willing to tune in to a premium channel to see the ceremonies either know who both these men are and their importance, or are interested enough to learn more and delve deeper, or both. They know Rupe’s dead. They don’t care that Rupe’s dead (well, they do, but you know what I mean). They still want to see his induction. Don’t underestimate their interest and passion.
3. Keep the cameras rolling
What I really loved about the 2008 induction ceremonies was their fly-on-the-wall approach with the broadcast. All the normal procedural silences between speeches, performances, montages of inductees’ accomplishments—all intact. In the world of unscripted broadcasting, those silences are awkward at best, deafening and dangerous at worst. Yet for those who watched, those pauses were much hardly awkward at all. It felt like being at the Waldorf as well, sitting at a table with the elite, waiting it out with them, wondering what was next. It was a suspenseful kind of silence, the kind you find in action movies, waiting for either the hero or villain to make the next move. When they tried filling in those pauses in subsequent years, they did it with things like interviews outside the dining hall that seemed like a good idea in theory, but didn’t pan out in practice, mainly because you could still hear the music going on deep in the background, which made you think you were missing ongoing performances, thus missing out on even more valuable programming. Even worse were the commercials (more on that in a moment). As painful as Justin Timberlake’s induction speech of Madonna was to watch, interrupting it or trimming it down would have been a more painful alternative. If Kanye West wants to crash the stage and say he’s gonna let Barry Gibb finish his speech, but Donna Summer was the best disco act of all time, of ALL TIME, keep it rolling (as well as the subsequent beatdown of West by Gibb). When Terry Sylvester showed up unexpectedly with a guitar and joined in on “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress),” it was just good television, even if it looked like it was supposed to happen from the way Pat Monahan surrendered the microphone. In fact, any theater performer will tell you that slip-ups work best when you can make them seem like they’re scripted. Keep filming it!
4. Get underwriters, not sponsors
The commercials, absolute momentum killers. We get it: there’re bills to pay for the right to broadcast, the crews that are required, etc. We get all that. But they kill momentum. We’re still on the high of seeing an artist perform and want that to carry over as the next inductee is introduced. Then the commercials. It’s like the boss calling you in as you’re just leaving for vacation, like having the phone ring as you’ve just sat down in a hot bath, like being walked in on mid-coitus. And when it comes back, it’s not as easy to get the momentum going again. What made 2008’s ceremonies so great for the home viewer was that VH1 Classic Rock made the atmosphere like a concert, or gala dinner. They made the audience feel like they were there. You can’t do that with commercial interruptions. Again, you’re a premium service channel. Your parent company probably isn’t dishing out the funds or personnel so you can give it the Oscar or Grammy style of treatment, which includes control of the pacing or order of events. Take your cue from PBS… get underwriting. Plug the hell out of them on either end of the show. Or even superimpose the logo in the bottom of the screen during those transitional pauses. But do NOT go to commercial. If it is in ANY way possible, forgo commercials. Even cross-subsidization on the part of the parent company is preferable to commercial breaks. Whatever it takes to better execute point three, and keep those cameras rolling.
5. Prioritize your camera direction better
I’m no art director, nor a cinematographer, so it’s very easy to dismiss what I say out of hand; in fact, I encourage you to take any of these suggestions with the appropriate number of salt grains necessary. I just know what I enjoy seeing, and what I don’t. This is the night for the inductees. We want to see the inductees, the presenters, the family members in the audience as the inductee thanks them, the montages. That’s all good. What we don’t need to see are tight close-ups of random audience members with their iPhones out snapping pictures. When someone is giving a speech, we don’t want to see two other audience members having a private conversation that you can’t hear or even lip-read. When the performances are going on, we don’t want close up shots of the non-celebrity players, like the aloof sax player, the bassist who’s getting a little too much into it, or the drummer with the hipster beret on (hey Paul Shaffer, you’re in charge of the band, make him lose the beret, please!). For the most part, they actually do a good job of this. It just needs a little fine-tuning.
6. The network edits best which edits least
Maybe that’s misstated. Maybe it’s more a matter of, “The editor has done his job right when no one’s sure if he’s done anything at all.” That means doing things with more subtlety, or not at all. As a reminder, you’re probably a premium network. This means you’re not legally held to the same decency regulations that the FCC imposes upon the regular networks. So, if Billy Joel wants to cuss up a storm, let it go. If a lyric in a song has the F-bomb, let the bomb drop. I don’t approve of swearing for the sake of swearing, but this is the rock ‘n’ roll world. Impropriety of speech is usually either the normal modus operandi of the domain, or is a side effect of the crazed and warped minds of the superstars. It’s simply a calculated risk when you get… well, any group of people together. Even more so with the stars of the rock and roll world. But the diminished need for editing applies to more than just the language; it also applies to time constraints. Is anyone really going to care whether or not the program finishes cleanly at the bottom or the top of the hour? Not really. Don’t rush the performances, don’t splice up speeches, and don’t omit any induction outright for the sake of time. This is a big night, and people will understand if it goes longer. More importantly, they’ll still keep watching if it goes late. You’re a premium network; it doesn’t matter as much if you end up being off-cycle.
7. Who’s doing what matters
However, if you are going to succumb to the pressures that cause you to ignore any of the above suggestions, a little common sense can go a long way. Don’t split-screen the speech with the performance. We want to see both and give both undivided attention. If the artist isn’t going to perform, it may matter who performs the tribute. The Stooges performing in Madonna’s place? Oh yes, we have to see that. Faith Hill performing for ABBA? Not as much. Damien Rice performing for Leonard Cohen? Not at all. For this past year’s ceremonies, they mostly edited optimally, but then kept editing. The problem there was they edited too much for too small a time period. FUSE really had a chance to do it right for 2011. All five of the Performer inductees performed for themselves, as did the Side-Man (Musical Excellence Award) inductee, which hasn’t come close to happening since 2007. The Non-Performer tribute performances were from a Hall Of Famer and a singer/songwriter who’s been considered for nomination before. There was nothing that should have been cropped. Keep track of who’s doing what. It really does matter.
8. There’s a reason it’s called “the All-Star Jam.”
FUSE, you really screwed us over on this one this year. ‘Nuff said.