New CBS special details how 2012 Grammys went on following untimely death of Whitney Houston

Even if you aren’t necessarily a music fan, you undoubtedly remember where you were when you heard the news last year that legendary pop icon Whitney Houston had suddenly passed away. The death was shocking enough to the world in general, and to the music community in particular, but it presented a particular concern for the producers, hosts and musical artists of the 2012 Grammys, which were going to be held less than 24 hours later. How do you quickly revamp the production to effectively, and tastefully, honor an artist who had contributed so much and touched so many, while still walking the fine line of also celebrating the other musical artists and nominees? A new special called The GRAMMYS Will Go On: A Death in the Family, premiering this Saturday, Feb. 9 at 9pm ET/PT on CBS (one day before this year’s Grammys), offers some details on how this was accomplished with what many viewers believe to have been a resounding success.

Following the untimely death of Whitney Houston, the 2012 Grammys added many changes which have now become famous, including LL COOL J’s opening prayer, Jennifer Hudson’s unannounced performance of Houston’s Grammy-winning classic “I Will Always Love You” (pictured) and the last-minute decision to end the show with the closing medley of Paul McCartney’s all-star lineup. The GRAMMYS Will Go On special features never-before-seen rehearsal footage and behind-the-scenes interviews with various music artists and the Grammys production team that revisits the hours leading up to last year’s Grammys.

“In an ordinary year, the Grammys is a really tough show to produce,” said Jack Sussman, CBS executive vice president of Specials, Music and Live Events. “It’s live and things happen behind-the-scenes at the last minute that you never expect. But every year the people behind this show find ways to make eleventh-hour creative adjustments in memorable moments. … This special is a very entertaining peek behind the curtain at the extra-extraordinary circumstances of last year, and how some of the biggest stars in the musical world came together for a television broadcast that will be remembered for many years to come.”

Among those big stars who will be giving personal accounts of the hours leading up to that live broadcast will be host LL COOL J, Dave Grohl, Jennifer Hudson, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift, Joe Walsh and Clive Davis, the man who discovered Whitney Houston.

At a press conference earlier this year, LL COOL J, who will be hosting and producing this year’s Grammys and memorably hosted last year, gave a little taste of some of these recollections to reporters by looking back at his thought process at what that night called for, and why he decided to open the ceremony with a prayer.

“When Whitney passed,” he recalled, “like, the night before, it was — you know, I was going over material that had already been finalized. And, obviously, the first thing that came to mind was I felt for Whitney and her family. After that, you know, I immediately called [executive producer] Ken [Ehrlich] and just started, you know, asking questions. We were going back and forth and just trying to figure out what we were going to do, how we were going to address this thing, because the difficult balance that we had to strike was giving all of these artists, all of these amazing artists, their just due on that day. They were nominated. They were scheduled to perform. They needed to have a great night, but at the same time, we wanted to show or pay homage to Whitney’s legacy and what she’s contributed to the music world. So that was the fine line. It’s like you have a guy like Bruno Mars. He’s about to perform. You know, Bruno doesn’t want to perform at a memorial, but at the same time, you know, I have to show respect and love and honor to Whitney and her fans. So that was the thing I was thinking about.

“As far as the prayer is concerned, it was something I mulled over at night and thought about and said, ‘Do you know what? There’s an elephant in the room, and the only way that I can, you know, address this elephant in the room is through prayer.’ I don’t have the personal, you know, wisdom or creativity to tell millions of people what to feel right now. So I called Ken up. Ken mulled it over, and he called me back and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And we did it, and I’m grateful that we did it.”

The GRAMMYS Will Go On: A Death in the Family premieres Feb. 9 at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.

The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards ceremony airs live Feb. 10 at 8pm on CBS (tape-delayed PT).


© 2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS