Harbinger of Oscar

SAG choices mirror thesp-heavy Acad

Never mind that members of the acting community say they’re thrilled to be nominated for a SAG Award because it comes from their own fraternity. The real reason actors — especially feature film leads — want to be at the podium with statue and acceptance speech in hand is that history often repeats itself.

For the first six years of the SAG Awards, the winner of the lead actor (film) category has gone on to capture Oscar glory. From Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump” in 1994 to last year’s recipient, Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”), one kudo has neatly followed the other.

On the women’s side, four actresses out of six have received an Oscar after their honor from the Screen Actors Guild.

All this couldn’t be better news for executive producer Jeff Margolis and cabler TNT, which will broadcast the show from the Shrine Exposition Center on March 11. Last year’s ceremony drew more than 7.5 million viewers to the broadcast and Sandy Shapiro, VP of specials at TNT, says he’s expecting big numbers this year.

“The SAG Awards is regarded as one of the top award shows on television and provides both high drama and integrity,” Shapiro says.

Margolis, a veteran of the awards show circuit, says the SAG ceremony is different from the Oscars in many ways. One is that the SAG Awards air during a strict two-hour window, rarely spilling over.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing that our show is only two hours,” Margolis says. “I think the problem with those shows that are over three hours is that people have to pee.

“I design the evening as a celebration to the actors, more than just a television show. When we go to commercial, we entertain with a film clip package and other things. They don’t get up and leave the tables.”

The fact that there are only 13 awards to give out — plus a life achievement tribute this year for Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee — with no song-and-dance routines helps keep the proceedings on a no-nonsense pace. Though there have been thoughts of adding categories, including supporting roles in television (instead, SAG recognizes ensemble casts), producer Kathy Connell says it would be nearly impossible to keep it under two hours if more actors were recognized.

“Everybody asks us that (increasing the award totals beyond 13), but time limits us,” says Connell. “For the most part, we would like to acknowledge additional performances but, so far, everyone seems to like the schedule we keep.”

One issue that will certainly be on the mind of the audience this year will be the possibility of a SAG strike this summer. Margolis is aware that some might want to get up onstage to share their thoughts on guild solidarity or other strike-related issues.

“We usually don’t say anything to the actors beforehand but I hope it doesn’t happen,” says Margolis of possible soap-box posturing. “I’m sure someone will say, ‘Let’s not strike’ at the end of a speech, but if everyone starts talking about it, we’re in trouble.”

However, show director Ron de Moraes says he and Margolis would never cut anyone off in midspeech, no matter the subject matter or if the show was running behind schedule.

“We have a back-time monitor so we’re both aware where we need to speed things up, but we would never cut somebody off,” de Moraes insists. “It is their moment and it would be the height of rudeness to say, ‘You’re done.’ ”

Connell says she’d be surprised if the possible strike was the topic of conversation, and believes that the year’s performances will be foremost in people’s minds.

“I don’t expect anyone to talk about the strike from the podium,” she says. “They truly feel there’s a deal to be made but this night is more about celebration.”

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