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The 36th Annual Grammy Awards : From Eloquent to Embarrassing: An Evening of Firsts

March 02, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

There were some nice awards and one swell music number after another, topped by jazz-singing Natalie Cole and a warm, moving tribute to Curtis Mayfield. There were some impressive statistics: two Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan jokes, two Lorena Bobbitt jokes, one Michael Jackson joke. In addition, nine winners thanked God, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith asked God to bless rock 'n' roll.

More than anything, though, Tuesday's Grammy Awards telecast on CBS--beamed to the nation from Radio City Music Hall in New York--was an evening of firsts.

It was the first time that truly memorable prose was lavished on a winner: the in-your-face, eloquent introduction of Frank Sinatra ("the chairman of bad") by cheroot-smoking rocker Bono of Grammy-winning U2.

It was also the first time that a Grammy Legend Award recipient was embarrassingly cut off in mid-sentence. The victim was, of all people, Sinatra, who had just broken a record for repeating he didn't know what to say, and appeared to be meandering, when he vanished like a blip from a radar screen. Seconds later, he reappeared in a long shot from the balcony, standing on stage in an apparent state of bewilderment as an off-camera voice announced earlier winners.

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In addition, it was the first Grammy awards to be emceed by a critic. The hybrid host/critic, heading his fourth Grammy telecast, was Garry Shandling. Returning after the commercial break following Sinatra's crudely aborted acceptance "speech," Shandling (probably on orders from director Walter C. Miller or supervising producer John Cossette) said: "Mr. Sinatra should have (been allowed to finish) his speech. That was a slight mistake. This is live television."

That it was, in the East. Earlier, Shandling had chided that courageous rebel Bono for using a crude four-letter synonym in his own Grammy acceptance speech (CBS bleeped the word from the taped telecast seen on the West Coast). Bono had said that he wanted to deliver a message to the nation's youth: "We'll continue to abuse our position and (bleep) up the mainstream.'

Always thinking of the kids--that's great.

Shandling also mocked Aerosmith's Tyler for saying that he loved rock 'n' roll "because it gets me off." And he targeted nominated rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg and the misogynistic tone of some rap: "His 'Doggy Style' is a very romantic album to play with your bitch."

One person whom Shandling didn't criticize was Shandling, even though he nervously stumbled and bumbled through the telecast's opening minutes, as if he'd never done this before. Actually he had--on Monday night.

For, in another first, Shandling became the only awards show host to use material on such a major telecast that he had tried out just the night before on national television. Incredibly, he sprinkled the Tuesday telecast with jokes he told the previous evening on David Letterman's late-night show.

The practice helped. He told them better Tuesday night, and at least he was keeping it on the same network.

The final first was a camera shot of Donald and Marla Trump in the audience, responding tepidly to a performance on stage by the nominated jazz/hip-hop group Digable Planets. From their expressions, you'd have thought they were watching the Martian String Quartet.

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