LeBron James on Graduate Together
Former President Barack Obama
When LeBron James was approached about Graduate Together: America Honors the Class of 2020, the decision was as easy as a slam dunk.
"High school graduation is an important milestone in every student's life," James says. "With everything going on, I knew we couldn't let it pass without doing something special."
That's why the NBA superstar's LeBron James Family Foundation and his company, SpringHill Entertainment, joined forces with the all-star team behind the show, which included the education-oriented XQ Institute, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and the production company Done+Dusted (which has produced many awards shows, including the Emmys).
Together they assembled an hour-long special that combined footage from high school seniors with appearances by 30 student-approved celebs like James, Alicia Keys, Timothée Chalamet and Kevin Hart.
The producers faced multiple challenges. "We had a little more than three weeks to put it all together, so it was quite the hustle," says David Jammy, executive producer and partner in Done+Dusted.
Social-distancing guidelines had to be observed, so many performers filmed their segments in isolation at L.A. Castle Studios. "The cameras are all remote, so there was nobody in the studio except the talent," Jammy explains. "They miked themselves and delivered their piece, all within safety principles."
The show aired commercial-free on May 16 via 46 outlets, including the four major broadcast networks, cable channels like Freeform and MSNBC, streamers such as Hulu and Roku and social-media platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter.
"It's extraordinary when we can have partners like CNN and Fox News broadcast a unified message across their networks," says executive producer Brian Gott, chief of innovation and media strategy at EIF. "Everyone came together because it was the right thing to do for the graduates."
Viewers apparently agreed. More than 20 million watched the telecast live, while certain segments, like former President Barack Obama's commencement address, were seen later by millions more.
"It made me so happy to see these graduates sharing their photos on social media in their gowns with their families in front of the TV," James says. "That's what this was about — giving them something to celebrate and be proud of. This is a moment they will never forget."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2020