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THE 41ST ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS

Aging Faster Than 2,000-Year-Old Man

TV review: Thanks to host Rosie O'Donnell and nominee Celine Dion, the show out-bored itself.

February 25, 1999|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner beamed down from Pluto to a standing ovation, Lauryn Hilled, Vince Gilled, Sheryl Crowed, Shania Twained all over the place, and Celine Dioned . . . and Dioned . . . and Dioned. Great pipes but . . . enough already!

When Wednesday night's Grammys on CBS finally ended with Hill thanking God and Whitney Houston chirping a couple of amens, you had a pretty good idea what they meant. There were better ways to spend three hours.

It was hardly the "blow your mind" blockbuster promised Wednesday by a KCBS-TV reporter as he stood outside the Shrine Auditorium, where the awards were being beamed live to much of the nation.

The evening did restore two traditions. One was the return of the Grammys to Los Angeles after two turbulent years in New York, where Mayor Rudolph Giuliani embraced them about as warmly as he would Hillary Rodham Clinton should they compete next year for a U.S. Senate seat. The other was the return of hosting duties to a stand-up comic after a 1998 stint by stony "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer.

He was succeeded Wednesday night by Rosie O'Donnell, a choice that on paper looked like perfect casting. She's funny, robust, a huge music fan and a prodigious quoter of lyrics on her syndicated talk show. Although energetic, Rosie rarely rose to the Grammys moment, though, and, hands folded in front like an old-fashioned opera diva, appeared riveted to her spot.

The Grammys' strength as a telecast in the late '90s has been diversity. Whatever your musical taste, wait long enough and you shall receive. The format is inevitably unimaginative, however. Surely creative minds can do better than a program that despite the vigor of some of the performers, feels as aged as the 2,000-year-old man played by Brooks in the routines that earned the humorist-filmmaker and his partner, Reiner, a Grammy in the best spoken comedy album category.

There were refreshing moments, including Hill stepping out of the hip-hop tradition when beginning an acceptance speech with a reading of the 40th Psalm: "Thanks to God for honoring me with this huge responsibility." And the musical highlights included Alanis Morissette and later a bluesy collaboration by Eric Clapton and B.B. King, the latter's signature tune being "The Thrill Is Gone."

For much of Wednesday evening, it never arrived.

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