No big surprise here — the gala has been broadcast on CBS every year since its launch 34 years ago. It’s one of the longest running broadcast partnerships in TV history.
It’s also one of the longest-running gigs for a TV special producer. George Stevens Jr. co-created the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff, and has produced and co-written the show for 34 years. His son, Michael Stevens has produced and co-written the show for the past five years.
And, of late, it has become an Emmy staple for the network — the 2011 Emmy competition marked the broadcast’s third consecutive win for best variety, musical or comedy special, accounting for nearly half of the franchise’s total of eight Emmy wins.
The Kennedy Center Honors fetes folks for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts; they’re picked by the center’s board of trustees. The most recent crop of honorees included chameleon actress Meryl Streep, pop singer Neil Diamond, Broadway singer Barbara Cook, famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
It’s also produced some of the more interesting talent lineups of any trophy show. Where else could you see Beyonce re-enacting Tina Turner’s ‘70’s performance of “Proud Mary,” Stephen Colbert waxing eloquent on the subject of Yo Yo Ma, or Jessica Simpson struggling through the complexities of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and then bouncing off stage like a jackrabbit. Oh wait! Viewers didn’t get to see that one — it got expunged from the broadcast. Well, anyway, it was riveting.
The most recent “Kennedy Center Honors” broadcast logged nearly 9 million viewers, which is not bad, considering it airs during the Christmas holiday season, when the number of Homes Using Television is not as high as other times of year.
But, of course, ratings aren’t the only reason a television network would want host this particular performance-artist feting. It’s one of the great Washington schmooze-fests. Every year for one night the KenCen Opera House is turned into dense, practically liquid mass of elected officials -- you don’t see the President and First Lady at the Golden Globes, now do you?
“The Kennedy Center Honors continues to be one of the most prestigious broadcasts on all of television, and we are honored to be its host,” CBS Corp president and CEO Leslie Moonves said in Thursday’s announcement.
CBS has been locking in its various key “specials” franchises for long-terms deals.
Last June, for instance, CBS announced it had closed a deal with the recording academy to air the Grammy Awards through 2021. And, on Jan 25, CBS announced it had reached a pact to continue airing the Academy of Country Music Awards through 2021.
Coming up for renewal next year: CBS’s deal with the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing for the Tony Awards, which the network has broadcast for more than three decades.