'The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors': Veteran Producers Share Behind-The-Scenes Details

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18 December 2017

CBS, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 9:00 PM ET

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the distinguished Kennedy Center Honors, an event that pays tribute to ?ve exemplary individuals who have enriched our world through their artistic talent and ingenuity. The intimate celebration, free of competition, honors the lifetime achievements of actress, dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade; singer-songwriter and actress Gloria Estefan; hip-hop artist and actor LL Cool J; TV writer and producer Norman Lear; and musician and record producer Lionel Richie.

At the center of this taped television production is Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss from White Cherry Entertainment, the multi-Emmy winning producers of live entertainment shows like the Emmy Awards, Tony Awards and Super Bowl halftime shows.

One of the most endearing parts of the celebration is the element of surprise. Not known to the honorees and the live audience is the identity of the special guests who gather to celebrate the honorees via spoken tributes and special performances. Keeping those a seret is definitely a challenge.

I think every year, as we do this show and other shows, I think with social media, everything gets harder and harder to keep a secret, Weiss says. It's nice for us when we can pull off a show, when the person who's being honored actually has a genuine look of surprise on their face. We have cameras fixed on the honorees, and we absolutely can watch and catch those moments, Kirshner adds.

Filmed in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, the program begins with Caroline Kennedy giving opening remarks before turning the attention to each of the recipients and an amazing star-studded lineup of guest performers and speakers.

Tribute presenters include Eva Longoria for Estefan, J.J. Abrams for Lear, Queen Latifah for LL Cool J, Meryl Streep for de Lavallade and Stevie Wonder for Richie.  

When the honorees are announced, we all think that we know something about the honorees, and then we do all the research and take a big part in the making of the film, and you learn so much more about their life, Weiss says. Without giving too much away, when you see it, you'll understand what I'm saying; during Norman Lear, a couple of moments are just reflective of the man that he was, not the shows that he produced. And something that we bring to our stage as part of that storytelling, I really hope will be very moving to him, and I think will be very moving to the public.

The 40th Annual Kennedy Center Honors airs on CBS Tuesday.
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