SAG Awards a cash cow for E!

The public’s increasing awareness of the Screen Actors Guild Awards is reflected by growing ratings for its televised coverage, including TNT’s cablecast of the event and E!’s preshow coverage.

Last year’s TNT numbers spiked 21% over the previous year, with a 2.3 rating, nearly 2.4 million households. Scot Safon, senior VP of marketing for TNT, says he expects to better those numbers for this year’s show March 10.

“The trend on this show is going to continue to go up,” Safon adds. “Over time, it’s becoming a more established, more anticipated tradition. It’s one of those shows that has a unique personality and sensibility — a mixture of emotion and fun.”

There’s no sense of awards-show fatigue here, TNT execs claim optimistically.

“I don’t think the public is as cynical about awards gatherings as the press is,” Safon says. “The shows are entertaining. They talk about, celebrate and explore an industry that people care passionately about and spend a lot of time enjoying in the course of the year.”

TNT’s two-hour cablecast — its fifth in a multiyear deal with SAG — will air live in the Eastern and Central time zones but be tape-delayed in the Western.

Nothing left unsaid

E! will run no fewer than four hours of preshow “Live From the Red Carpet” coverage beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern (again, tape-delayed in the West), with Jules Asner and Steve Kmetko as hosts.

“We turned walking into a building into a major television event,” quips John Rieber, senior VP of original programming for E!, speaking about the cabler’s now-familiar preshow coverage of the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes and other kudofests. “We saw that this was becoming a big party and the celebrity turnout was huge.”

This will be E!’s sixth year of pre-SAG Awards coverage and, reports Mark Sonnenberg, exec VP of entertainment for E!, it does pretty solid ratings. While it’s not at the same level of the Oscars or Globes, he says, “It’s a fairly new awards show and the numbers reflect that.”

The four-hour event will not focus exclusively on red-carpet interviews by Kmetko and Asner, E! execs say. In addition, there will be features on all the categories, discussion of the major races and call-ins by nominees.

“Our whole job is to capture this ceremony from every angle,” says Rieber. “People can’t be in the theater to watch the awards. They can only watch at home, so they get no sense of the excitement of what’s going on there. That’s what we’re trying to bring them.”

TNT’s Safon expects a high percentage of nominees to attend. “It’s a pretty emotional show,” he says. “It’s not like an outside body is bestowing awards on a group of actors. This is actors celebrating their own colleagues.”

And, he adds, as entertainment programming, the results are almost beside the point. “It’s about watching people and how they talk about what they do. It’s a tremendously entertaining, funny, inside experience.

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