How MSNBC Host Nicole Wallace Made NBC’s Ukraine Fundraiser Special – The Hollywood Reporter

On Sunday, July 3, NBC will air a primetime special in hopes of raising money for victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The special one, Ukraine: answer the call, runs on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC at 7 p.m. Sunday, featuring guest appearances from Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Sheryl Crow, Jon Batiste, Alicia Keys, Simu Liu and others. Ben Stiller, who was recently in Ukraine, will make his appearance. Ukrainian President Zelensky will also appear.

But what viewers at home may not realize is that the special was created by MSNBC Deadline: White House anchor Nicolle Wallace while queuing at a Chick-fil-A drive-through. Wallace serves as an executive producer on the special.

Wallace had covered the invasion every day on her show, and she had developed resources in the country, including Igor Novikov, a former assistant to Zelensky, who at one point suggested the idea of ​​a “We are the World”-esque. song for Ukraine (“We are the World” is the famous 1985 single that raised money for famine victims in Africa). A few weeks later, Zelensky appeared at the Grammy Awards asking for support from the music community.

Wallace was at the aforementioned drive-through earlier this spring with her 10-year-old son, her husband (New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt, they had only been married a few weeks), and their two dogs, when everything fell into place.

“After President Zelensky addressed the Grammy Awards, I started thinking about ‘We are the World,'” Wallace said. The Hollywood Reporterrecalling turning to her husband in the car and saying, “Do you think I could do a ‘We are the World’ for Ukraine?”

It was a bit far-fetched to hear her say it, and certainly outside her comfort zone, but Wallace said she had one clue that might help her get the project through.

“I know exactly one musical superstar. I know [country music star] Brad Paisley, and I called him around 9 a.m., and I said if I wanted to try doing ‘We are the World’ would you help me?” she remembers. Paisley was there and introduced her to Grammys writer David Wild, who in turn introduced her to others in the music community.

“I relied on anyone I could convince that this was a valuable idea to take me to the next person,” Wallace says. “I found out on the first day that no one said ‘No’. No one didn’t want to help. Not everyone could do it in 8 weeks, but everyone wanted to help.”

With the industry increasingly on board, Wallace had to figure out where the special would run. Luckily for her, she had a pre-existing lunch on her schedule with NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, at the company’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters.

“I said ‘whatever you think this lunch is about, it’s about something else,'” Wallace says. “And he laughed a little. We still got our food at the buffet.”

She explained the concept to him and he immediately bought in.

“He said, ‘Well, why don’t we give you an hour of airtime and you can do an hour of music performance leading up to the song?'” she says.

In the end, the idea for an original song was scratched (the 8-week period to put together the special turned out to be too short a time frame), but the special lives on.

However, there was one final piece of the puzzle: convincing Zelensky to participate. The President of Ukraine has sporadically attended certain cultural events to try to gain support. The Grammys were big and he also spoke at the Cannes Film Festival. Zelensky is, of course, a former comedian and actor, and his chief of staff Andriy Yermak is a former film producer. Wallace credits them with understanding the power of pop culture. Zelensky and his team bought the field from Wallace.

“They have more knowledge of this side of the business and the power of culture and entertainment and the soft levers of power than anyone else,” Wallace said, adding that the team producing the special had to “prove itself” to the government. from Zelensky.

“I’m not known in space and this wasn’t something that already existed, so we had to convince them that this would be high quality and a worthwhile investment of its time,” says Wallace.

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