Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Sunday, February 13, 2005

Steve lost his pants on purpose
Published February 11, 2005
Producer caps 35th Grammy show on high note
By Mike Hughes
Lansing State Journal

For decades, Pierre Cossette has seen his Grammy telecasts grow and transform.

They've gone from pop to rock to (sometimes) rap. They've had fun and flubs. They've merged generations; Bruce Springsteen's mom screamed with delight when meeting Andy Williams.

Now Cossette is producing his 35th and final edition. Then his son will take over.

"I'll still be here," he said. "I just won't have 110 phone calls a day."

He'll also no longer be the one to tell a star when to disrobe.

"Steve Martin was standing offstage and said, 'Thirty seconds before I go on, tap me on the shoulder,' " Cossette recalled. "I did and he took his pants off."

Martin strode to the glass podium (in boxers, not briefs) and began his presentation. "I didn't know he'd arranged to have someone come racing down the aisle with his pants from the cleaners," Cossette said.

Hey, undress always gets a laugh - if you happen to be on camera.

During one telecast, a rocker did a bare-chested song. Backstage, host Billy Crystal asked if it would be OK if he came on stage topless; it was a fine idea, Cossette said.

"Billy went out there and got this huge laugh," Cossette said. "Except, I had forgotten that we were going to commercial then. The TV audience never saw it. He was pretty mad at me afterward."

The Grammys are like that, with the highs and lows of live TV. Other awards shows might be fairly similar from year to year. The Grammys, however, must keep changing with the music.

"We went through the disco craze, the rap craze, hard-rock, you name it," Cossette said. "We have to be ready for what's new."

That wasn't true in the early days. Steve Allen told a Grammy audience he bought a Rolling Stones record just so he could turn it off.

Now that has changed. "We want to know the young demographics," Cossette said. "We have the 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds watching. The older viewers will tune in, to see what the others are talking about."

That's been reflected in the hosts. The old days were all pop, Cossette grants. "Andy Williams hosted for seven years, John Denver for four, Kenny Rogers did for a while."

Then he switched to comedy. "We had Billy Crystal; then the Oscars came and got him," Cossette said. "Whoopi Goldberg, the same thing. We had Ellen DeGeneres, Garry Shandling, Jon Stewart."

In the early days, the fun came from pairing presenters. Cossette savors the memory of Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald scatting at the podium; he loved linking Moms Mabley, the elderly and bawdy comedian, with studly songwriter Kris Kristofferson.

Mabley asked Kristofferson if he wrote "Help Me Make it Through the Night," Cossette recalled; he said yes. "Then she said, 'Well, 20 minutes will be fine with me.' "

In later years, the great pairings were in the music performances. This year, Cossette will have several that link generations. He'll have hot newcomer Kanye West with the Blind Boys of Alabama. He'll have classic Southern rockers with the newer country of Tim McGraw, Gretchen Wilson and Keith Urban. A tsunami-relief song will link newer stars (Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, McGraw) with Stevie Wonder and Bono.

Over the years, Bono has given Cossette some of his favorite and least-favorite moments.

A plus was a beautifully worded tribute to Frank Sinatra. "He wrote that just before he went on," Cossette said. "We didn't even have time to put it on the Teleprompter."

A minus was when Bono blurted the F-word. Cossette doubts it was a slip. "He's a great marketer; he knows what the young audience wants."

Now the show has a 10-second delay. Next year, John Cossette and Ken Ehrlich will take over as executive producers; they can be the ones to tell Steve Martin when to disrobe.


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