(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I used to love disaster movies. In fact, the only thing better than a good disaster movie was a bad disaster movie. Give me DVDs of The Towering Inferno, Escape From New York, the original film version of War of the Worlds, Airport and Airplane, and I was good for a weekend.
Not so much so these days. They’re starting to hit too close to home.
But, I guess it follows logically that I’ve always loved disastrous live TV. I don’t mean staged events or seeming accidents or ordinary falls, like Jennifer Lopez on the American Music Awards show. I mean the real thing, such as Ashlee Simpson freezing up on Saturday Night Live and then blaming it on her band. Her sister Jessica twice flubbed the words in a taping of Dolly Parton’s song “9 to 5” in a tribute to Parton at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. After seeing the tapes, Simpson had the wisdom to finally withdraw from the show. Still, if you can’t get a taping right … .
I also love disastrous moments on live awards shows, especially music, movies or TV awards. Something in the DNA of such shows — as heavily scripted as they are — tends to suspend normal rules of behavior. It attracts people to do and say things they ordinarily would not. I’m kind of amazed that in the nine years thus far that CMT has produced a live awards show, we have never had a major disaster. That could always change, but I doubt it.
Country folk are amazingly well-behaved onstage at awards shows, generally, as the CMT Music Awards shows have shown since the first one in 2002. Then known as the CMT Flameworthy Awards, the initial show had as host Kathy Najimy (!) and featured such musical offerings as Kenny Chesney’s “Young,” Earl Scruggs’ celebrated banjo picking in “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Toby Keith’s boot-in-your-ass song and ZZ Top’s “Tush,” which they performed with Brooks & Dunn. Nothing too untoward happened in the way of on-stage disasters.
The 2003 Flameworthy show proved to be pretty lively. CMT had a “cocky video of the year” award. That’s a disaster in itself. What were we thinking?
On March 20, 2003, this nation began the Iraq War. Ten days before the U.S. invasion, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made her famous remarks at a concert in London. By the time of the Flameworthy show on June 12, feelings were running pretty high. Numerous patriotic and pro-military songs were sung during the show.
Things reached a fever pitch when actress-comedienne Brett Butler launched into a defense of the Dixie Chicks. Loud boos rained down on her. When she could be heard, she said, “You boo me up in that seat. By the time you get down here to kick my ass, I’ll be gone!”
Wrong thing to say.
It did not turn out well. But nothing in country history can equal Charlie Rich’s burning of the envelope naming John Denver as entertainer of the year at the 1975 CMA Awards. Denver and Olivia Newton-John were resented by some in the country music community for being outsiders who were stealing the country thunder. Rich had been the 1974 entertainer of the year, so he was the presenter. That evening, he appeared to have over-served himself backstage. When he opened the envelope and read the name, he — without saying a word — drew out his cigarette lighter and set fire to the envelope. It burned brightly in total silence on live national TV.
That remains the all-time country music awards show disaster. Denver was, unfortunately, out of the country on tour and couldn’t savor the moment in person.
In pop music, you get little blips, such as Cher’s f-bomb on the 2002 Billboard Music awards or Bono’s f-with-an-ing on the 2003 Golden Globes. Those are mostly for personal aggrandizement and are easily deleted live, thanks to tape delay. Words are easily hidden, but true disastrous events like Rich’s can’t be covered up.
Kanye West’s ability to misfire on awards shows is seemingly boundless and also sometimes contagious. When the late Anna Nicole Smith introduced West on the American Music Awards, she was late and drunk, staggering around and dropping such remarks as “Like my body?” Then, West pitched a fit when he lost the best new artist award to Gretchen Wilson, mocking her onstage, stalking out of the building and declaring later that he was “robbed.”
Of course, West’s supreme moment — the event he had seemingly trained for all of his life — came at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards when he got brandied up good and tried to step on a kitten. And just look what happened.
Then Taylor Swift’s own Grammy Awards performance brought forth a general hue and cry, as well as a spirited debate on the value of Pro-Tools.
When Ben Stiller appeared dressed as a Na’vi from Avatar at this year’s Academy Awards show, it was almost a classic disaster. From what I have heard, Stiller originally planned to do a skit with Sacha Baron Cohen, star of the films Borat and Bruno. But the latter showed up dressed as a heavily pregnant Na’vi, and the show’s produces shut that idea down right quick.
Bob Dylan’s performance of “Love Sick” at the 1998 Grammy show was interrupted by one of his dancers, who suddenly stripped off the shirt to display the words “Soy Bomb” written on his chest.
This year, there was some initial skepticism and criticism of the selection of Kid Rock to host the 2010 CMT Awards airing Wednesday (June 9). I don’t share that skepticism and criticism. I know Kid Rock and like him. He loves country music, and more importantly, he respects it. And — unlike many people who attempt to host live TV — he can be genuinely funny. And irreverent. I’m sure that he’ll toss off some one-liners that will get some people all a-twitter. So much the better.
Besides, his ex-wife, Pamela Anderson, co-hosted the show once (with Toby Keith) in 2003. Time to give him a chance.
It should be an awards show to generate plenty of talk. I just wonder what kind of talk it will be.