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

On Sunday, July 3, NBC will air a primetime special hoping to raise money to benefit victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

the special, Ukraine: Answering the Call, will run on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC at 7 pm Sunday, with guest appearances scheduled from Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Sheryl Crow, Jon Batiste, Alicia Keys, Simu Liu and others. Ben Stiller, who was recently in Ukraine, will make an appearance. Ukraine’s president Zelensky will also appear.

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

Wallace had been covering the invasion on her show every day, and she had developed sources in the country, including Igor Novikov, a former aid to Zelensky, who had at one point floated the idea of ​​a “We are the World” type song for Ukraine (“We are the World” being the 1985 single that raised money for victims of famine in Africa). A few weeks later, Zelensky appeared on the Grammy Awards where he asked 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 for a few weeks), and their two dogs, when everything clicked into place.

“After President Zelensky addressed the Grammy Awards, I started ruminating on ‘We are the World,’” Wallace tells The Hollywood Reporterrecalling that she turned to her husband in the car and said “do you think I could do a ‘We are the World’ for Ukraine?”

It was, to hear her say it, somewhat far-fetched, and certainly out of her comfort zone, but Wallace said she had one lead that could help her pull the project together.

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

“I relied on everyone who I could convince that this was a worthwhile idea to bring me to the next person,” Wallace says. “I figured out in 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 needed to figure out just 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 kind of laughed, we were still getting 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 musical performances leading up to the song?’” she says.

Ultimately the idea for an original song was scratched (the 8-week window to pull the special together ended up being too short a timeframe) but the special lives on.

There was one last piece of the puzzle, however: Convincing Zelensky to participate. Ukraine’s president has made sporadic appearances at certain cultural events to try and rally support. The Grammys were a big one, and he spoke at the Cannes Film Festival as well. Zelensky, of course, is 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 Wallace’s pitch.

“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,” Wallace says, adding that the team producing the special “had to prove ourselves” to Zelensky’s administration.

“I am not known in the space and this was not something pre-existing, so we had to convince them that this would be high-quality, and a worthwhile investment of his time,” Wallace says.

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