Johnny Kalimeris, advisor to the president of the Greek broadcaster and ERT Eurovision project manager, is a television man. He is genuinely passionate about the Eurovision Song Contest which he thinks is the greatest event of its kind in the world and he knows exactly what it involves. In a two-part exclusive interview with esctoday.com about everything regarding the Greek entries, he is not afraid to express his concerns or speak openly about the way the Greek broadcaster approaches it.
Greece havean impressiverecord at the Eurovision Song Contest lately, being consistently in the top ten since 2004, would you say that this is due to good karma, luck, your good neighbours, the diaspora maybe or is it something else?
"As far as the neighbours are concerned, we have always had neighbours. We had them in 1978, in 1988, in 1998, it's not like we got them lately. Naturally, the breakup of certain countries gave the possibility for more votes but this opportunity was not only given to Greece, it was given to many other countries as well. Luck has nothing to do with it, luck only has to do with the running order. I think we have been doing so well because we love Eurovision, we really like this competition and we put in a lot of effort.
ERT management really started to get involved in 2002-2003 when I joined the General Directorate because I personally carried this passion for Eurovision. I am a TV man, and I firmly believe that Eurovision is the best television event in the world. It is made for television, it's what we call "good TV" and it has all the elements I, personally, like to watch in a television show, that is music, drama, competition, betting and all that offered in a happy, carefree wrapping. I feel it is the only event of this huge calibre made especially for television, it is not a radio program just for music, the show is very important as well.
As everyone involved here in ERT loves the contest, we have invested personally, we have invested in promotion, in PR, in every aspect of the project. We invested in good composers and productions.
Greece does well in Eurovision because we take it very, very seriously. This is the essence of it all. And it is not just about the TV ratings. The Eurovision Song Contest is also about representing your country. Why should some countries get nil points? Ok, there is politics involved in the voting as well. But the opportunity to use the song itself to become friends with Europe again is there for anyone to take. I really do not get the neighourly voting anathema, blaming everything on it just does not convince me when some countries traditionally do not go the extra mile to achieve a good result."
It looks as if you have the whole picture in mind when selecting an artist, are you looking for more than just the song?
"Yes, when it comes to internal selection we have a very clear picture of what we want to present from the beginning."
But you took risks as well. Sakis is a sure bet to do well, but you have also sent less experienced and tried artists. But it still worked out well somehow.
"I agree with you, the big bets were indeed Sarbel and Kalomira. With Sakis you expect it, with Helena you know she's got it, the same goes for Anna Vissi. The risk is with younger, less experienced artists you want to take from one place and take them to another level.
Specifically with Kalomira, we were well aware that her strongest point was her communicative charisma, whether on stage, on TV or talking to reporters, so we invested heavily in her image both on stage as well as in her interaction with the press. All that, combined with her own very hard work gave her a third place.
I consider Kalomira's placing a huge success for ERT. I was really nervous last year, wondering whether we would make it to the final. I have it this year as well but in a lesser degree. Because when you are directly in the final you feel safe, but with the semis you always run the risk to come up against a bunch of very good songs in your own semi. Kalomira's semi final was a tough one and 2008 was a year with a lot of good songs in general. Nevertheless, she managed to do well!"
What was the budget last year? Do you expect to spend more this year, given Sakis' profile?
"For the 2008 contest we spent around 800.000 euro. For 2009 it will be slightly higher but not due to the artist, since the singersare not paid a fee apart from their expenses. The same goes for the composer who is only paid for his creative work, studio, arrangements etc. The promo tour will be slightly larger but not spectacularly. What concerns us is the fact that we hear Moscow is very expensive. We hear that accommodation, food, etc are four times what we paid in Belgrade and that may increase our budget."
In the second half of our exclusive interview with ERT's Eurovision project manager, Johnny Kalimeris we ask about Greece's decision to announce their 2009 Eurovision Song Contest representative in July of this year, the power of the Greek promotional tour, why Greece is determined to keep participating with English lyrics and whether Greece will ever send a gimmick or joke entry to the contest.