Clearly, LL Cool J got the gig hosting the Grammys because of his connections. The Grammys air on CBS; he stars in the CBS show “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
“Well, I’m thinking it had something to do with it,” deadpanned Jack Sussman, CBS’ executive vice president of specials, music and live events, while LL Cool J nodded in agreement. “I thought that was a gift because I’ve worked with him before. I know what he’s like. He has amazing music cred, street cred. Artists want to be with him. He’s a star on our network. It was a no-brainer.”
LL Cool J — born James Todd Smith — does have cred. He’s a two-time Grammy winner who will be hosting for the second time on Sunday at 7 p.m. on Channel 2. (In our area, the broadcast airs with a one-hour tape-delay.) But after several years of Grammy telecasts that didn’t feature a host, Grammy officials weren’t looking for one.
“We were fine,” said Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy. “We were very happy with the show as it was. The fact that LL popped up and became available was really a gift to us.”
In ways no one imagined. “The real hero of this last year’s show was LL,” said Ken Erlich, the executive producer of the telecast since 1980. “Sometimes fate intervenes in a good way and sometimes in not such a good way. It’s just unbelievable that he came to us this [past] year.”
A year ago, the Grammys were operating under the cloud of Whitney Houston’s death, which occurred the day before the awards ceremonies. The tragedy threatened to cast a pall over the entire evening, and LL Cool J handled it perfectly.
He mulled it over, talked to Ehrlich and decided, “The only way that I can address this elephant in the room is through prayer.” He kept it brief and heartfelt, striking the perfect note.
“The difficult balance we had to strike was giving all of these amazing artists their just due on that day,” LL Cool J said. “They were nominated. They were scheduled to perform. They needed to have a great night. But at the same time, we wanted to pay homage to Whitney’s legacy and what she’s contributed to the music world.”
Nobody is saying that LL Cool J is the greatest awards-show host ever. The funniest. The most charming. Hey, there’s only one Neil Patrick Harris.
But on that night, on that stage, under those circumstances, it’s difficult to imagine anyone handling it any better.
“I don’t think there’s anyone else [who] could have not only handled the situation on camera the way he did, but been such a strong presence behind the scenes leading up to the show the way he was,” Ehrlich sad. “There’s no doubt in my mind we would not have gotten through the show the way we did without him.”
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.