Kudos quandary

Oscar has a home but semi-Emmys roam

Oscar has firmed his plans for a venue five months ahead of time. But with less than one month to go, Emmy’s still homeless.

On Monday, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honchos officially signed the deal to host the kudocast at the Kodak Theater at Hollywood & Highland.

The Kodak decision was not a surprise, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion either. AMPAS had placed a deposit on the Shrine Auditorium as a backup plan, and Monday was the deadline for a decision. AMPAS gave the Shrine the official word late Monday. The Oscars will air March 24 live on ABC.

Meanwhile, Emmy’s still looking for a date and a venue. Last week, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences and CBS was weighing a kudoscast held on a military base (Daily Variety, Oct. 18), which would combine the awards handout with a salute to the military.

However, that’s only one of the options open to the organizers. Sources said CBS is also looking at amphitheater possibilities and other sites.

Other concerns include the availability of production resources, finding a producer (Don Mischer dropped out due to scheduling) and an air date. The general feeling is that sooner is better than later, but since November is a sweeps month, CBS’s schedule is not exactly wide open.

Turmoil level heightened

Emmy’s dilemma is serving as a warning to other kudocast organizers. While every awards show has last-minute crises about presenters, honorees, performers, florists, caterers and security, the usual level of turmoil is heightened. Organizers and networks now must not only make arrangements for venue and staff for the assigned date — they need to decide if they have to book backups 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.

Forging ahead

Despite the Emmy woes, reps from the awards shows are forging full-speed-ahead with plans for the peak awards season, January through March. A worker at one org summed 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.”

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.

AMPAS spokesman John Pavlik mused, “The political situation is on everybody’s mind, but so far nobody’s saying much.”

Kudos crucial

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 today. “This show … will go on. As life goes on.”

AFI director-CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg told Daily Variety, “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 the Latin Grammys and the Emmys and is slated for the AFI fete on Jan. 5 as well as the Grammys — concurred. “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 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 said. “Everybody’s having a hard time — this just makes it harder.”

Security questions

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

Lorenzo Soria, VP of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which hands out the Golden Globes, admitted, “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,” said 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, said, “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 shrugged, “Unfortunately, it’s wait and see.” But he freely admitted that security “is going to be a major change and an expensive one.”

Before his People’s Choice 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 joked about security at that Nashville event on Nov. 7. “The CMAs should be OK. Nobody would mess with them, because the nominees all carry their own guns.”

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

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