EXCLUSIVE: Ricky Kirshner had been working on Democratic National Conventions since the first time Bill Clinton was nominated, but the realities of the coronavirus pandemic this year saw the Emmy winning producer to literally move the show across the nation at very short notice.
“We built a show that was anchored in Milwaukee, with a center in Milwaukee, where we would kind of roll out on to a much bigger set,” Kirshner says from the control room in Delaware as he gears up tonight for Night 2 of Democrats’ remote shindig
“So, the hard part was taking all of that infrastructure and moving it to Delaware, scenically,” the longtime Tony Awards and Super Bowl Halftime producer reveals of the four-night show that will nominate KSen. Kamala Harris for VP tomorrow and culminate in Joe Biden’s acceptance speech on Thursday. “It was a matter of moving a lot of the tech infrastructure around. Literally, our set, lights, screens, everything were in a truck in Milwaukee to be unloaded the next day when we got the call. Now, we have a control room in Delaware and we have a control room in Milwaukee, where our technical hub is built.”
In any other year, being nominated in the Emmys’ Outstanding Variety Special (Live) category for both the 73rd Tony Awards and for the Super Bowl LIV Halftime show with JLo and Shakira would be the apogee of achievement this summer. But this isn’t any other year and this isn’t any other summer and this really isn’t any other Democratic Convention.
Leading into tonight with moderator Tracee Ellis Ross and speeches from ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Dr. Jill Biden, Kirshner spoke with me about the biggest challenges of pulling off the 2020 Convention. The seasoned producer and 9-time Emmy winner also discussed his nominations and Super Bowl 2021, as well as that blistering speech by Michelle Obama last night that ripped Donald Trump to shreds with a smile.
DEADLINE: So, Night 1, how do you think it went?
KIRSHNER: (LAUGHS) I think that if people knew what we went through to get here, they’d be amazed.
Obviously, we see some glitches that not everyone in the world sees, but look, we started out, a year ago, doing a normal convention in Wisconsin for 15,000 to 20,000 people in a basketball arena. Then we were down to 1500 in the Wisconsin Center and then 300 at the Wisconsin Center. Then probably less than 10 days ago, we moved the whole thing seamlessly to Delaware, but we’re still in 5 different locations in 4 cities. That’s just our control room setup, our technical infrastructure, etcetera, etcetera, not counting the 25-to-30 live remotes. So, considering all that, it went well, I think
DEADLINE: The closing speech by former First Lady Michelle Obama has been widely praised, but, from your perspective, what do you think also landed with the audience?
KIRSHNER: You know people responded to a lot of the things we’re excited about, like the National Anthem and the We the People and you know things like that, so we knew it hit the right chord.
DEADLINE: You have three nights left in this miniseries of sorts, how hard was it to go virtual and shift the center of this universe to Joe Biden’s backyard?
KIRSHNER: First of all, I don’t want to say virtual because when people say it’s a virtual convention last night, everyone thought we were doing a Zoom call, including my mother. We were doing live, some live speeches, and there were live people.
Otherwise, we built a show that was anchored in Milwaukee, with a center in Milwaukee, where we would kind of roll out on to a much bigger set. So, the hard part was taking all of that infrastructure and moving it to Delaware, scenically. It was a matter of moving a lot of the tech infrastructure around. Literally, our set, lights, screens, everything were in a truck in Milwaukee to be unloaded the next day when we got the call. Now, we have a control room in Delaware and we have a control room in Milwaukee, where our technical hub is built.
DEADLINE: Clearly the last few months have seen everyone doing a lot of things differently and live events and shows all going remote and online, so the final decision to head to Delaware and with no audience couldn’t have been that much of a shock?
KIRSHNER: (LAUGHS) I mean it wasn’t like out of the blue. It was more out of the blue, actually, in 2008, when we got a call on July 4th that said, oh, we want to go to a stadium for in Denver for President, sorry Senator Obama accepting the nomination, not the Pepsi Center.
DEADLINE: And you were able to pull that off…
KIRSHNER: (LAUGHS) We were, we were …
DEADLINE: In that, what was the greatest technical of last night and what do you anticipate being the greatest technical challenge going forward tonight and the rest of the week?
KIRSHNER: Well, last night, the biggest technical challenge was just making sure it all worked before we ever got on the air. Like I said, we got spread out to five different locations in about a week or 10 days…
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