Home Celebrity Tonight’s Kennedy Center Honors Could Be Last of Its Kind as Founding...

What you won’t see tonight during the Kennedy Center Honors (9pm CBS) is what happened when we all returned from the intermission break at the December 7th taping. The group’s CEO, David Rubenstein, who is also head of the Caryle Group, the largest hedge fund in the world, came out and made some perfunctory comments. Then he thought he was introducing the show’s founding producer, George Stevens Jr., who created the Kennedy Center Honors 37 years ago with Nick Vanoff.

Stevens, who is a very spry 82, on his game, with lovely patrician manners, stepped on stage. He then shocked the audience with the emotional news that, essentially, he’d been ousted after 37 years. “This will be our last show,” he said. He thanked his son Michael who’s worked with him for years and whom he credits for really being the main producer of late. There was literally a gasp in the room. No one knew.

The Kennedy Center Honors was the last bastion of civility on broadcast TV. In a culture now where nothing is taboo, and the lowest of the lowest gets a reality show, it’s hard to believe that once there was theater, ballet, classical music, jazz and opera on regular channels. Now it’s relegated to PBS. The Kennedy Center Honors was the only PBS-like program on a main network. But Rubenstein and new president Deborah Rutter aren’t interested in that, sources say.

“They want something more like the Grammys, but the worst aspects of it,” says a source. “The glitz and the glamor. And young people.” In other words: Taylor Swift presenting an award to Jennifer Aniston. You get the picture.

Tense negotiations were said to having been ongoing since August between Stevens and Rubenstein-Rutter. A few days before the taping, Stevens staff had stopped using Kennedy Center email addresses. Most of the staff did not know the end was coming before Stevens’ speech. Rubenstein didn’t know Stevens was going to address the audience with the news. But George Stevens Jr Productions had already been told they had to be out of the building by the end of the month.

After the show, at an informal gathering in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the 8th floor, the usual post- celebration was like a wake. When Stevens and son finally arrived, all the new honorees (Sting, Lily Tomlin, Tom Hanks, Patricia McBride) rushed to his side, as did many stalwarts who’d been involved with the show and Stevens for years. Steven Spielberg, upon hearing the news, said: “But isn’t the show supposed to be about honoring people who’ve achieved something?” Among many the sentiment was, if it’s called the Kennedy Center Honors, it’s not going to attract the MTV-Facebook-TMZ crowd.

The word now is that CBS and Rubenstein may indeed have brought in Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, who excels at that show, a different kind of animal. The announcement should come soon. Of course, the producer of the show isn’t in charge of who gets in– that’s a whole separate committee. But watch for a total rebranding, like Kennedy Center specials akin to the new (and poorly rated) Grammy Christmas nominations show, one source suggested to me. We might be far away from LLCoolJ (perpetual Grammy host) giving Kennedy Center awards to Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.

17 replies to this post
  1. jason. you’re really a great man. and clearly doing your best to ensure that awards shows are not subject to same bias as say reality tv ro op ed pieces like this one.

  2. I thought this year’s show was superbly produced. I do not want to see it cheapened.

    The article did not say the show was on PBS. It said that the less popular arts are relegated to PBS.

    I would love to see the current format moved to PBS. Who owns the rights to the show’s production? Can it be taken away from Rubenstein?

  3. I’m not a Taylor Swift fan but she most certainly is a future Kennedy Center Honor award winner. Do a modicum of background research on her and educate yourself with her hard work, work ethic, talents, drive, and character.
    It makes the author come off as a bit of an old twat for castigating her via the lumping of her name amongst beiber and reality show swill.
    I’m not a fan but respect is due to anyone working as hard as she does on her brand, music, live performances and song writing.
    She didn’t just rip off black music like the stones, the Who, led Zeppelin or many other of this authors presumable favorites from his youth.
    good day sir.

  4. Wow, talk about a biased article. I was in the room and there were no manners involved, and the gasps were only due to the fact everyone was shocked Stevens could be so audacious as to announce it that way. And the show isn’t even on PBS. Get a fact checker dude.

  5. ‘the lowest of the lowest gets a reality show’ – that’s the name of the game, much to our collective chagrins. George Stevens was the person who presented a plaque to Leonard Bernstein when Lenny was giving his final concert with the NY Phil. Yes, things are definitely going downhill for the arts…

  6. Television, as it is today, is a race to the bottom, appealing to the lowest common denominators of our society. All they are doing is rendering themselves into irrelevency. I worked in this industry for 27+ years and its embarrassing to see this happen.

  7. TheHonors format has been stilted and uncomfortable got years, more reminiscent of a black tie version of Dean Martin’s roasts than anything valid in 2015. One regrets the dissapearance from the scene of the tounders of the Center, but everything in life is transient. It’s time to become more relevant, or fold the broadcast altogether.

  8. Declasse! Why on earth would someone want to change something so noble, so intelligent, and soul-stirring into something vulgar and “contemporary?” I’m in grief about the change and dread what is coming down the pike.

  9. Well said, Sara Clifton. The last thing we need is another “People’s Choice Awards” type show. Kennedy Center Honors plays tribute to the best of the best. It is classy and sophisticated. We don’t need to be rewarding the narcissistic behavior of teenaged celebrities. We should reward those who set good examples for young people. Those who show that a strong work ethic results in an amazing body of work. Shame on CBS, and what a dishonor to John F. Kennedy.

  10. complete and total shame. can’t believe these people would cheapen these honors. I hope these new producers get run out of town. I really enjoyed the show last night. actual talent and achievement was honored…amazing people were honored.

  11. What a shame. I understand television is a ratings game, I really do. But we’re surrounded by ‘reality’ shows that aren’t and ego driven displays by celebrities no one over 15 years old has ever heard of. One night a year. Is it really too much to ask that one night a year be devoted to the achievements of those who have actually ACHIEVED something? And their peers? Over the long haul? One night. Just one.

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