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Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

HBO offers front row seat for Madonna

August 23, 2001

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Nancy Geller isn't shy about giving a shout out to Madonna as a perfect musical match for HBO.

"She's ideal for HBO, she's the biggest, she's an icon," said Geller, senior vice president of original programming, the executive in charge of getting the live mojo workin' for the No. 1 premium cable network.

The "Madonna Live! Drowned World Tour" show Sunday night from Detroit marks the third time the pop diva has teamed up with HBO for a live concert telecast. HBO and Madonna got into the groove with "Live! Blond Ambition World Tour '90" and "Live Down Under: The Girlie Show" (1993), both of which proved hugely successful for the cable channel.

"She's a perfectionist and we respect that," said Geller of Madonna. "She has complete creative control and we accept that. And she knows we'll give her the kind of marketing and promotional support she deserves."

HBO long ago established a reputation for doing superlative live musical telecasts. The network's commercial-free environment affords the luxury of capturing the concert experience up close and uninterrupted.

And with no pressure from advertisers or worries about ratings Geller is free to focus on the top priority: "How can I give our subscribers a front-row seat?"

HBO's live concert production crew, headed by veteran producer Marty Callner, will bring about 100 people to Detroit to capture the Madonna experience. They'll use 22 cameras, plus extensive lighting, as well as additional lipstick and robotic cameras for the show's in-your-face opening. And there will be a rail camera suspended above the floor of the Palace, running 275 feet to the back of the arena for extra visuals.

The typical price tag for a live concert telecast runs in excess of $2 million, said Geller. And that doesn't include the money spent on marketing and promotion.

HBO's march on the Palace will bring the largest TV production to the arena since the Pistons were winning their last NBA championship in 1990, said Palace spokesman Jeff Corey.

"They're basically going to be here a full week, which is much longer than any other (concert) show," said Corey. The typical Palace work crew of 100 will be nearly doubled to assist HBO. And the cable network will have a compound in the parking lot.

Over the years, in addition to multiple concerts with Madonna, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson, HBO has carved out a niche for live telecasts built around an eclectic array of artists from Paul Simon and Bette Midler to Garth Brooks and Cher.

Earlier this year, HBO drew raves for a passionate Madison Square Garden performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. And the network's next big live musical event after Madonna will feature reigning pop teen supreme Britney Spears, making her HBO debut Nov. 18 in a Las Vegas concert.

But right now, the Nancy Geller HBO Pop Music A-Go-Go is all about Madonna.

"She's the most talented performer I've been around," said Geller. "This is not someone who goes onstage and walks through the numbers ... And with this concert tour, she's created a theatrical, elaborate, magnificent show. And when you see it, you'll know that's not an overstatement."

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