What The Viewer Saw:
It was Adele’s night. The 2012 Brit Awards saw her accept two unsurprising gongs, one for Best British Female, and then the real biggie - Best British Album.
It was pretty special. George Michael, her massive fan, had attended the event for the first time in 17 years, specifically to reward her for ‘21’, the biggest selling album of the century. She was, indubitably, queen of the night.
However, as she graciously began to speak, mentioning her pride at being British, at flying the flag, all good stuff, her acceptance speech was cut abruptly short by an apologetic James Corden, who then introduced Blur, the honorees of that year’s Outstanding Contribution Award, and the last performers of the night.
Adele, not a woman to be cut off in her prime, promptly gave ‘the finger’ – a gesture she later explained was to ‘the suits’ who made the decision, not to the viewers. Although she later apologised, it was clear what she thought of the whole thing, bearing in mind she was the biggest winner on British music’s biggest night. So, did she have a point, and whose responsibility was it?
What Really Happened:
An experienced live programme TV director talks HuffPostUK through the decision-making process, and the unpredictable factors that no one can predict, that will have caused such a headache on the night…
When will the production team have first known there would be a problem?
“They would have known they were over-running quite a while before. Schedulers budget a certain amount of time for each section at the planning stage, then the production assistants in the gallery time the sections as they go live on air, so they would have seen they were over by the time Adele got on stage.
“Another section had taken up too much time earlier, and it would have been a case of clawing back the time in each section as much as possible by the time they got to her. When she got to the stage, they knew they somehow needed to accommodate her, Blur’s performance, and a goodbye.”
Now it’s looking tight, what could they do?
“They would have been speaking to the editors in charge of ITV presentation about a possible over-run. Those are people in charge of the whole network schedule, that the Brits formed the biggest part of on that night.”
Why couldn’t they just over-run as it was the biggest event of the night?
“Because ITV, unlike the BBC, has legal commitments in its allocation of on-air time.
“It’s only allowed a maximum of 12 minutes of ads per commercial hour. So it needs to have run those ads by, say, 10pm, otherwise it leaks into the next commercial hour. On a night like the Brits, commercial sales will be at a premium, so all the slots in the 10-11pm hour will already be taken.
This means ITV editors would have had to drop some of those ads or risk going over their 12min/hour allocation. So it would have been Hobson’s Choice of being fined for breaking Ofcom’s laws, or losing the huge amount of revenue from the ads they binned.”
Ouch! What would their options be at this point, when Adele’s still on stage?
“They have three at this point… 1) to cut away from the Blur performance so that viewers don’t see the end (the audience in the hall would still see it all) 2) Keep going, which would run the risk of being abruptly cut off by ITV Presentation which may have looked awful, and involved taking a possible legal and/or financial hit 3) risk upsetting Adele. There’s no happy answer.”
Why did they decide to go with number 3?
“Music performances are timed to the second, with all the camera moves already prepared, you can’t risk shortening that without a car crash. Similarly, end credits are all timed, and with music performances, some of those names you read on the credits are legal requirements, too – so that becomes a minefield. In live TV, someone’s speech becomes the most flexible element, the one thing you can play with.”
Whose shoulders took the biggest burden on the night?
“Ultimately it came down to presenter James Corden. He could have let Adele carry on, but voices in his ear were frantically telling him otherwise. If this were Formula One, they would be in the pit, and he was the driver behind the wheel. He said afterwards, “I could have ignored them,” but he knew there was a lot riding on it.”
Has it ever happened before?
“Russell Crowe was famously cut short at the BAFTAs 2002, resulting in a less than harmonious exchange between him and the programme’s director at the post-awards dinner. But we do everything we can not to let it happen.”
Could ITV learn any lessons from this, to make its life easier on the night?
“ITV got to balance the loss of commercial minute-age with the needs of one of their biggest live broadcast operations. They will have had those discussions. Commercial time is at its premium for an event like this, but the reason the show is so important and successful with attracting viewers is because of artists like Adele, so her appearance has to be factored in.
“Ironically, if she’d won a lesser award at the start of the night, this wouldn’t have happened. ITV’s brand is currently ‘A national moment’ and Adele is exactly the kind of talent that a national audience wants to see. So it’s a very delicate balancing act.”
Watch ‘The Brit Awards’ live on Wednesday evening, from 7.30pm on ITV. Anything can happen.