How hard is it to manage televised live events these days? Nothing on stage at the American Music Awards tonight will compare to the behind-the-scenes drama all week over a planned Chris Brown performance that was abruptly blocked by Disney/ABC. Here’s what happened, according to multiple sources on all sides of the standoff:
Jesse Collins and Stephen Hill, who are executive producing the ABC show for Dick Clark Productions, were working with Brown and his team on a medley of Michael Jackson hits with Ciara and others in tribute to the 40th anniversary of Thriller. Brown is nominated for an AMA and has appeared at several awards shows since pleading guilty to physically assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009, among other legal skirmishes. But this would have been the first time in the #MeToo era, since the BET Awards in 2017, that a televised show had invited him to perform. And Brown complained in August that he’s basically been shadow-banned for his past behavior.
Collins and especially Hill, a former programming chief at BET who has a good relationship with Brown, felt strongly about giving Brown an opportunity to return to TV. But the prospect of a convicted domestic abuser feting an alleged child molester on a Disney network (yes, “Beat It” was in the planned medley) never made it to the ABC higher-ups until, weirdly, I called and asked about the plans last weekend. ABC Entertainment president Craig Erwich was then alerted, and Rob Mills, the network’s head of alternative and specials, went back to the producers to nix the plan.