The producers of the Grammy telecast will have many people to thank if the show wins an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Special Class Programs. But they should probably begin their "thank-yous" with one person: Whitney Houston. Houston's shocking death on Feb. 11, barely 24 hours before the Grammys were set to go live, created a huge challenge for the producers: Not just to revamp the show on short notice, but to strike just right the right tone and give the death enough, but not too much, focus.
Host LL Cool J addressed Houston's death right at the top of the show, leading the audience in a prayer. Jennifer Hudson later sang a low-key, intimate version of Houston's signature song, "I Will Always Love You."
The approach seemed to work. The show drew the show's biggest audience since 1984, when a red-hot Michael Jackson became the first artist to win eight Grammys in one night. Houston's death was widely seen as the main reason for the big boost in ratings: People wanted to see how the Grammys would handle something they couldn't possibly have anticipated.
It helped that Grammy producers were able to back up the Houston drama with other headline-making elements, including Adele's first performance following throat surgery and Paul McCartney's performance of a prized medley from Abbey Road.
Members of the TV Academy were also impressed with the Grammy show. The show received six Emmy nominations last week, which set a new record for the Grammys. Moreover, this is only the fourth time the Grammy telecast has been nominated for an Emmy in a program category. The show was previously nominated in a program category in 1977, 1988 and 2011.
Houston was closely associated with the Grammys. She opened the show twice, in 1989 with "One Moment In Time" and in 1994 with "I Will Always Love You." She won six awards, including Record of the Year (for "I Will Always Love You") and Album of the Year (for The Bodyguard).
In 1986, Houston became the first (and remains the only) musical performer to win an Emmy for an appearance on the Grammy telecast. She won Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for her appearance on the Grammys on Feb. 25, 1986. She performed the sultry "Saving All My Love For You," which was her first #1 hit. Moments later, her cousin Dionne Warwick presented her with a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. Their long, joyful embrace made for great TV.
The only other musical performer to receive an Emmy nomination for a Grammy show appearance was jazz legend Sarah Vaughan, who was nominated that same year (1986). In addition, two Grammy hosts, Billy Crystal and Ellen DeGeneres, have been nominated for Emmys for their work on the Grammys. Crystal was nominated three times (winning once).
Counting this year's six nominations, the Grammy telecast has been nominated 61 times through the years. It has won 17 times.
The Grammy telecast is competing this year for Outstanding Special Class Program with the latest editions of the Oscars, Tonys and Golden Globes. (The Emmy telecast isn't eligible to vie for an Emmy.) Two other specials are also nominated in the category: Louis C.K. Live At The Beacon Theatre (FX Networks) and Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudamel And The L.A. Phil Celebrate Gershwin (PBS' Great Performances).
Here's some news about other music-related Emmy races.
Tony Bennett, who won for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special five years ago with his NBC special Tony Bennett: An American Classic, may be headed for a repeat victory. Tony Bennett: Duets II is nominated in the renamed category, Outstanding Variety Special. It aired as part of PBS's Great Performances. Its chief rival is CBS's The Kennedy Center Honors, which has won in this category the last three years in a row. The other finalists are Mel Brooks And Dick Cavett Together Again (HBO); Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America's Golden Girl (NBC) and Kathy Griffin: Tired Hooker (Bravo).
Documentaries about two music legends are competing for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special. They are George Harrison: Living In The Material World (HBO) and Paul Simon's Graceland Journey: Under African Skies (A&E). They face Bobby Fischer Against The World (HBO), Gloria: In Her Own Words (HBO) and 6 Days To Air: The Making Of South Park (Comedy Central).