In honor of the 50th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s famous ’68 Comeback Special, NBC is delivering the two-hour Elvis All-Star Tribute, featuring music superstars re-creating that event, down to how the show is shot and what songs are sung. The executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, is an industry veteran. “I was a huge Elvis fan,” says Ehrlich. “A good friend, the attorney for the [Elvis] estate, came to us almost two years ago. … He said the anniversary was coming up and would we want to do a show?” Ehrlich, also the executive producer of the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards, naturally said yes. In addition to the performances, the special will also include interviews from people originally involved in Elvis’ comeback, including the original director, Steve Binder, and Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla Presley.
The show is hosted by country singer and The Voice funnyman Blake Shelton, who will also be singing a song or two himself. “Blake does ‘Suspicious Minds,’ but there’s another part of the show I don’t want to talk about too much,” says Ehrlich. The list of superstar singers includes Keith Urban, Ed Sheeran, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Josh Groban and many more.
Ehrlich also gave his own memories of watching the ’68 Comeback Special live. “I was a fan from the beginning, [but] when he stopped having hit records, in the ’60s, and just made movies, I dumped him, you know? The Beatles came along, the Stones came along. Music changed. But when you first see him onstage in the ’68 show, my God, it’s amazing. It’s this presence. From the first moment, it’s electric. This was the peak vocally, and he just looked incredible [in his] black leather jacket.”
The hardest part of the 1968 special to re-create was the style of filming used, called “in the round,” where cameras move around the stage. “In 1968, they made a very conscious effort to hide the cameras. We don’t do that much anymore. People are so used to seeing these things that when you watch a concert show on television or even on some of the awards shows, you’re conscious of the cameras.”
This style of filming also encourages a stronger bond with the audience. “The few hundred people that were lucky enough to come to it when we shot it walked out saying they had never seen anything quite like this. … I don’t care if you’re watching it on your phone or on an 85-inch screen, if you’re watching music, you only see it from the front. With this show, because it’s 360 degrees, because it is in the round, you really feel like you’re a part of it. You really feel as though you are there.”