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Neil Portnow on emergency replacements and comparisons to last year

February 8, 2009 | 10:44 pm

Neil__200 NARAS president/CEO Neil Portnow came backstage to discuss what was probably one of the most dramatic news stories in Grammy history, Chris Brown's alleged physical assault on girlfriend Rihanna.

On hearing the news and the logistics of finding a replacement for the scheduled performers, Portnow said: "First, let's go to the reality of what we do, which is live television. This is the most complicated show, I believe, in television in anywhere in the world because of the nature of the fact you have so many artists. You have so many technical things you must do -- set designs, light designs, sound, wardrobe, choreography, stages. We have a massive production to do. What we also realize is that when you have that volume of different people coming, that things happen. You have to be nimble ... Things happen and you have to be nimble. We think ... we have the greatest musical talent in the world in the same place at the same time.

"One by one, to the credit of the artists, people really stepped up and wanted to be a part of this."

On how he chose Al Green and Justin Timberlake as the replacements: "You go through lots of ideas. You try to do brainstorming, but you also want to do something that will be great for the show. When we started to think about [it], there's a little bit of a theme here. We talked about the U2 opening and the state of the world and country. You think about staying together and what does that say. We know Al Green and we know there's a relationship with Justin. You start one-by-one and try to piece it all together. Then the key is whether you can make it work."

Did he panic? "It's probably the medication," Portnow cracked. "That’s not my personality. I'm not a person that panics. A  challenge comes in and you want to deal with it and you want to make it work, knowing this is complicated. You just have to be calm about it."

On the attention the story brought: "It'd be unfortunate because really what tonight is about and what the whole week is about is the celebration of great music and the musicians that make it. You've got years worth of creativity that is culminated this evening with some of the greatest musicians receiving the greatest honor that they could receive for their work. Really, that’s the story. I think the fact that musicians are like everybody else. They have their trials and tribulations and problems, it's not something I want to be judgmental about. The fact they're celebrities and this plays out in public probably isn't to anybody's benefit. The story ought to be about tonight  and the great show and music we were able to deliver."

On tonight's show and how it compared to last year: "We look at each year as a fresh canvas to paint on. The 50th anniversary of the Grammys is a very different time and occasion than the 51st. In that 50th year, we were committed to paying our homage to our history and some of the time that happened before us as well as the present. We base a majority of what we do on the nominations in that year. One year to the next there may be different albums released that creates a different musical palette."

-- Mark Medina

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images