Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said that Kirshner and Weiss would bring a new attitude to the program’s time-honored traditions.
“Anything in life deserves and improves with new perspective. At a certain point you need to make sure you look for opportunities for evolution and improvement over time,” Rutter said of the change. “We had a great time talking about the approach and style, about honoring the values of the Kennedy Center Honors in terms of lifetime achievement, and yet bringing a fresh approach to it.
“There will be quite an evolution, but I can’t predict what it will look like.”
The Kennedy Center Honors salutes some of the best performers in the world at a gala celebration every December. The honorees – who have included Leonard Bernstein, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Bob Hope, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Sting – are seated with the president and first lady as star-studded casts perform in their honor. CBS has broadcast a two-hour special every year since its inception.
The Kennedy Center has signed a one-year deal with Kirshner and Weiss, who formed White Cherry Entertainment in 1999. The pair have produced the Tony Awards since 2003, Prince’s Super Bowl Halftime show and several Boston Pops Fireworks Spectaculars, all of which aired on CBS. The pair also produced President Obama’s inaugural gala in 2009. Together, they have won eight Emmy Awards.
Weiss and Kirshner expressed excitement about working on what Weiss called “one of the classiest shows on television.”
“It’s a fantastic show. It’s very important to respect what the show is, and the audience that has been watching it,” Weiss said. “We are coming in with fresh eyes.”
“We’re not coming in to blow it up. We’re not here to make it into something it’s not,” Kirshner added. “We want to bring fresh eyes, a fresh coat of paint … and present it a little differently so over time we can grow it, as we have done with the Tony Awards.”
Rutter and the producers said it was too soon to know how the show would evolve. Kirshner said that this year’s five honorees – who haven’t been announced yet – would determine a good deal of the details.
Stevens and his son won five consecutive Outstanding Variety Special Emmys for their Honors productions from 2009 to 2013. In the arts center’s announcement, Stevens offered his good wishes to the new team, saying, “I look forward to the Kennedy Center Honors continuing to maintain its high standards under the new producers and flourishing far into the future.”
Michael Stevens added that the production comes with enormous responsibility to both the arts center and the president it honors.
“The Honors is the living expression of President Kennedy’s high regard for the American artist as well as the center’s unique annual broadcast to affirm the importance of artistic excellence in our country,” he said. “I remain hopeful that this tradition will continue at the standard that’s been set over its first 37 years.”