“The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors,” airing Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBS, went on this year despite President Trump and the First Lady sitting it out.
The show pays tribute to five artists who this year hail mostly from music backgrounds. They include pop/R&B singer Lionel Richie, rapper/actor LL Cool J, singer Gloria Estefan, television writer/producer Norman Lear and actress/dancer/choreographer Carmen de Lavallade.
Lear, 95, almost sparked a rare moment of controversy after his inclusion was announced earlier this year. He said that while he would accept the honor, he would not participate in the traditional pre-show ceremony at the White House because he objected strongly to President Donald Trump’s proposals that would eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Traditionally, the ceremonies begin with a reception at the White House, hosted by the President and First Lady. In 35 of the previous 39 years, the President has also attended the show.
Norman Lear vowed to skip a pre-show ceremony at the White House before it was ultimately cancelled.
(The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
This year, Trump announced that he and the First Lady would not participate in any of the events, to avoid creating any distraction.
The White House reception was cancelled and the Trumps did not attend the show. Lear did.
Co-producers Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner diplomatically say the absence of the President doesn’t affect their job.
“We produce what we hope is a great show regardless of who’s in the audience,” Kirshner tells the Daily News. “The world is what the world is.”
During the ceremony, the honorees sit in the audience watching as their careers are extolled and some of their work performed by fellow artists.
Presenters include Meryl Streep, Dave Chappelle, Eva Longoria and Quincy Jones.
Lionel Richie and Gloria Estefan, two of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors recipients.
“We try to present it as if it were a live event,” Weiss tells the Daily News of the show that was taped Dec. 3 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. “We want to maintain the energy you feel in the room.
“Our approach is that we want to make each honoree into a character.”
With Lear, for instance, there will be verbal tributes from Chappelle and J.J. Abrams. The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants will belt out “America the Beautiful” and there will be “performance tributes” from five classic Lear TV shows.
Eva Longoria is among the presenters at this year’s Kennedy Center Honors.
(CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images)
Those will include Rob Reiner working from “All in the Family,” in which he starred. Rachel Bloom will handle the “Maude” tribute, writer/producer Kenya Barris will do “Good Times,” Anthony Anderson will do “The Jeffersons” and Rita Moreno will do “One Day At A Time.”
The show has been edited down to about 92 minutes of running time.
Both Weiss and Kirshner say they were most excited this year by the presence of Lavallade, 86, who is probably the least known of the honorees to the general public — and to the producers, who come from the rock ‘n’ roll generation.
This star-studded celebration on the Kennedy Center Opera House stage included Queen Latifa (left.)
(CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images)
“We learned a lot about Carmen and what she does this year,” Kirshner says. “What she’s done in ballet, in opera, in pop music. By the time we’d finished with her story, which is remarkable, she felt like family.
“Hopefully viewers will get the same sense we did.”
Weiss notes that he and Kirshner are not involved in selecting the honorees, only telling their stories. On one of the most heavily debated aspects of the awards, whether they should also honor deceased artists, Weiss says, “We haven’t talked about that, which isn’t to say that someday things might not change.”
For now, he says, they’re just trying to show why these artists deserve America’s most prestigious national arts honor.