How Biden Inaugural Team Pulled Off That Starry Production

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How Biden Inaugural Team Pulled Off That Starry Production – Without Mentioning Trump

A late start, COVID-19, and the Capitol riot challenged the production team but never threw it off-course, co-executive producer Stephanie Cutter says

Four years after Donald Trump’s inauguration team struggled to get big stars to perform — aside from GOP standbys like Lee Greenwood, Toby Keith, Jon Voight and 3 Doors Down — Joe Biden’s swearing-in was greeted with a star-studded lineup that included Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Garth Brooks and Tom Hanks.

Biden’s well-produced inaugural events have won mostly raves, and co-executive producer Stephanie Cutter told TheWrap Thursday the program “reflected what a Biden presidency is all about.” And that included no on-air mention of outgoing president Donald Trump.

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Speaking to TheWrap about the production of the A-list-heavy event, the founding partner of Precision Strategies explained that there were plenty of challenges to pulling off the inauguration — including the late start to the presidential transition, COVID-19 protocols restricting options and heightened security following the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago. But despite the obstacles the inauguration team faced, Cutter said, “The messaging didn’t change.”

The theme, she explained, was “America United,” so her team worked together to broadcast just that — recruiting a diverse mix of performers both for the swearing-in ceremony and for the primetime TV special broadcast on virtually every major network.

“We knew we wanted this to be about the country and the strength and perseverance of the American people, not just celebrating a new president,” said Cutter, who pointed out that the team made space to memorialize the 400,000 Americans (and counting) who have died from COVID-19 while also celebrating a new era in American politics. “It’s more celebrating a new day and America pulling through and that’s very much in keeping with who President Biden is and so our messaging didn’t change. Our footprint didn’t change.”

Cutter noted that there were some security concerns that affected the lineup of performers, but Adrienne Elrod, who oversaw talent for the event, was still pleased with the day’s turnout.

The goal, Elrod said, was diversity — not only in the backgrounds of the performers but in their music choices, too. While Katy Perry performed her own celebratory hit “Firework,” John Legend did a cover of the soulful classic “Feeling Good” that the late singer Nina Simone made famous. “We were very specific in what we were asking for,” said Elrod, adding that it was also important to let “artists be creative and be a part of the process.”

In some ways, Elrod said, the task of recruiting music stars was different this time around because of pandemic restrictions. Because there were no inaugural balls in Washington, D.C., she said, the team could focus not on individual concert performances but on putting on “a show” for TV audiences.

The glut of A-list talent marked a striking contrast from four years ago, when Donald Trump struggled to find big names to perform at his own inauguration and relied on “lower-wattage stars,” as TheWrap reported at the time. According to the Washington Post, Trump was furious that his successor’s inauguration featured top-level talent like Gaga, Lopez and Brooks.

Biden’s inauguration team also made a deliberate decision not to mention Trump during the proceedings. “No matter who you voted for in this election, whether it was Joe Biden, Donald Trump somebody else, hopefully you walked away —  and I think you did walk away — just feeling really good about your country and what this country stands for and your role in this country,” Elrod said, highlighting that the team’s goal of producing an “inclusive” event.

“There was no bashing,” Elrod said. “We didn’t utter Trump’s name. We didn’t try to create some sort of divisive atmosphere. We welcomed [outgoing vice president] Mike Pence with open arms. That was very important to the president-elect, but when it comes to an artists’ standpoint, that transcends across the board. We wanted people to walk away feeling that no matter who they voted for, this inauguration was for them and that it was a good reset in terms of focusing on what’s next and focusing on the fact that this presidency is going to be focused on the American people and their priorities.”

Lindsey Ellefson

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