Nervous eyes on the prize

Emmy woes spur rival kudocasts to go into overdrive

After the cancellation of the Latin Grammys, the double postponement of the Emmys, and a flurry of government alerts about security, you’d expect showbiz to be in kudocast chaos.

Instead, reps from still other galas are forging full-speed-ahead with plans for the peak awards season, January through March. A rep from one org sums up the mood: “Everybody’s going forward on the assumption that things will settle down by early next year — even though we secretly fear that they won’t.”

Kudocasts run on adrenaline: Each has last-minute crises about presenters, honorees, performers, florists, caterers and security.

Now this constant turmoil is heightened. Organizers and networks must not only make arrangements for venue and staff for the assigned date — they need to decide if they have to book a backup date as well.

They also must mull whether to arrange for additional venues on the East Coast and perhaps even Europe, to accommodate talent who are wary of flying. And, in these security-conscious times, they’ll have to decide if red-carpet arrivals and fan bleachers are ready for extinction.

Execs at most of the organizations acknowledge discussions in the hallway (and even nightmares) on the subject. But so far, few concrete plans have been made.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences spokesman John Pavlik muses, “The political situation is on everybody’s mind, but so far nobody’s saying much.”

The dilemma is crucial. Awards shows are much more than an excuse for showbiz self-congratulation; they are a multimillion-dollar industry. And the awards season is one of the forces driving showbiz income, particularly in the first quarter.

The broadcast and cable networks annually air upwards of 40-50 such shows. Aside from hefty license fees — AMPAS regularly rakes in around $45 million from the Oscars — and billions in TV ads, there is an economic ripple effect. This can boost everything from box office, talent salaries and studio bottom lines, to income for hairstylists and limo drivers.

A successful awards season can also provide a much-needed tonic for the industry economy. But some wonder if recent events will accelerate a shakeout in the kudos biz.

At this point, everyone is being positive. “The Oscars will go on next March,” AMPAS prez Frank Pierson states firmly in a Daily Variety editorial on Oct. 15. “This show … will go on. As life goes on.”

AFI director-CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg affirms, “America’s moviemakers have always helped this country during hard times, whether the war or the Depression, and made this country feel good about itself. We’re going forward because we need this more than ever.”

And Jack Sussman, senior VP of specials at CBS — which was to air both the Latin Grammys and the Emmys and is slated for the AFI fete on Jan. 5 as well as the Grammys — concurs. “You can’t avoid it, it’s part of our everyday life now. But we need to get back to business and not let what happened take us down.”

No one was doubting whether the major kudocasts would proceed. But questions of security and blackouts plague a biz that was already going through turmoil.

There are frequent new shows cropping up, such as the broadcast film critics gala, which will air on E! Entertainment.

Showbizzers are already wondering if such A-level additions to the TV scene as the AFI Awards — with its early January berth and its recognition of both film and TV — will steal the thunder from existing shows, such as the Golden Globes.

In addition, some studio execs are pushing AMPAS to shift the Oscar date, to separate it from the pack of other film-awards shows.

Like Sussman, other network execs in charge of kudocasts insist there’s a place for televised award shows in this new age.

Big events, like the Oscars and the Grammys, won’t find their network relationships affected by this new national reality. But insiders say that mid-level shows, such as the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards or the TV Guide Awards, might find more resistance from execs, talent and attendees.

Of course, the softening economy had already raised the question whether TV would support the current overflow of awards shows, especially since many of the lesser-known telecasts rarely pull boffo numbers. Sept. 11 simply made that situation worse.

“People may second guess whether they want to go through those investments,” one exec says. “Everybody’s having a hard time — this just makes it harder.”

And speaking of harder times, the question of security looms large.

Lorenzo Soria, VP of Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which hands out the Golden Globes, admits with understatement, “Security was always something we dealt with in a casual way. This year, it’s gonna have much more importance.”

At many other major kudocasts, security has always been nightmarish, with a seeming lack of organization that can result in an hour or more of waiting.

Just as many people are avoiding airports out of dread for long lines rather than a fear of flying, kudocasts could face a similar rash of defections, thanks to more stringent security.

Oscars planners insist that security at their targeted new home — the Kodak Theater at the Hollywood & Highland complex — will be improved from that at the Shrine Auditorium.

They also say they are better prepared than most shows for changes. Since the kudocast has long been planning to move into its new home, the Academy has spent two years in re-thinking old formulas about arrivals and security.

“The Oscars will be as safe as we can make it,” says Academy spokesman Pavlik. “A few months ago, we’d bring up an idea (about security) and someone would say ‘We don’t have to do that, do we?’ Now they’re saying ‘Sure, do it, do whatever you need to do.’ ”

Jeff Margolis, exec producer of the upcoming “Screen Actors Guild Awards,” says, “With so many high-profile attendees, we have the same security concerns as the Oscars and the Emmys, and have dealt with them in a similar fashion. Like the rest of the nation, we will be acutely attuned to changes in the world situation over the next five months and will adjust our plans accordingly.”

“The People’s Choice Awards” airs live on CBS and is unique because it not only includes stars, but members of the public. When asked about possible format changes, exec producer Walter C. Miller shrugs, “Unfortunately, it’s wait and see.” But he freely admits that security “is going to be a major change and an expensive one.”

Before his “People’s” stint, Miller will serve as producer of the Country Music Assn. Awards in Nashville next month, but he’s not sure that will serve as a learning experience: “Every location is different.”

However, one network honcho jokes about security at that Nashville event on Nov. 7. “The CMA’s should be OK. Nobody would mess with them, because the nominees all carry their own guns.”

MTV’s Video Music Awards, held Sept. 9 at New York’s Met Opera House, may be remembered as the last kudocast held in simpler times — when Jennifer Lopez’s outfits mattered and Anthrax was a heavy metal band, not a weapon of mass destruction.

(Michael Schneider and Jill Feiwell contributed to this report.)

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