The Kennedy Center Honors aren’t really known for scandals. But last night during the taping of this year’s edition–honoring Sting, Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, Patricia McBride and Al Green– we got a doozy. Speaking to the audience at the beginning of the second act following intermission, famed producer George Stevens Jr. sent out a shockwave. He announced that after 37 years he’d been ousted by the new management. This was his final show. It was a complete surprise to almost all of his staff and to everyone in the audience.
Stevens is a beloved figure in Hollywood and Washington. Last year he received a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. He is the original and only producer of the Kennedy Center Honors, a show that’s won many Emmy Awards and has stood out as a last beacon of light for the arts and culture as show business has become eroded by fake awards shows and the like. His son, Michael, who has produced the show with him for years, was expected to take over one day soon.
But it’s not to be. And the situation is not only a shock this morning at the Kennedy Center but all over Washington. I am told that Stevens has been negotiating quietly with Kennedy Center president David Rubenstein, who run the Carlyle Group, the largest hedge fund maybe in the world. Sources say Rubenstein just wanted to “clean house” and bring in his own producer who would make the KCH glitzier, “more like the Grammy Awards.” Stevens, I am told, has been given two weeks to clear out of his offices. There is also an issue over a royalty on the show as Stevens created it. Sources say Rubenstein is even fighting that.
The irony of course is that last night’s show, which will be broadcast on CBS on December 30th, was one of the best if maybe not the best. It was packed with stars, lots of showstopping classic musical highlights, and the usual impeccable production. After the show I ran into Rubenstein at the post- dinner, where he was busy going from table to table doing spin on what had just happened. He told me he had no idea that Stevens was going to make his announcement — which was tearful and emotional– the way he did. I asked Rubenstein why he was replacing Stevens and who would be his successor. He responded just that “it was time” and he’d be talking to new producers. But people I spoke to suggested that he already had a replacement.
More to come…