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Clash of the kudos

New entries challenge Globes as H'w'd launches annual prize fight

This article was updated on Dec. 20, 2004.

It’s kudo season, and the campaigning is nothing compared with the wrangling among the awards shows themselves.

While everyone acknowledges the Oscars is the apex, kudocasts like the SAG Awards and Critics Choice Awards (from the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.) aspire to become the new Golden Globes.

That’s something the old Globes won’t accept — not after the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., whose 83 voting members vote on the Globes, has worked so hard to get to this point.

The org is cleaning up its image as a group once disparaged — though always coddled — by the Hollywood establishment. And though there are still oddities surrounding the Globes (is “Ray” really a musical?), and some still have reservations about the HFPA, the event is generating a lot of cash.

No awards show comes close to the whopping $54 million that ABC paid for this year’s Oscarcast. Still, NBC paid the HFPA and Dick Clark Prods., which produces the show, $14 million for this year’s show; thanks to the deal, the org has quadrupled its revenues in the past eight years.

This gold rush has attracted other groups that are all jostling to find the right date for their own awards show, a battle that’s even more frenetic due to the Oscarcast’s move from March to late February.

Unlike the Globes, which has always been well positioned in mid/late-January, aspiring kudocasts find that if their show is too early in the season, still-vacationing stars won’t attend. (AFI discovered this on Jan. 4, 2002, when the celeb-starved CBS show earned only a 3.7 rating.)

If the show is too late, viewers will have OD’d on the flood of awards. In 1956, the Oscarcast drew 70% of the viewing audience. This year, after a half-dozen televised awards shows — such as BAFTA’s, the BFCA’s and the People’s Choice Awards — within two months, Oscar drew 40%, or 43 million U.S. viewers (which was a drop from the 46 million in 2000).

With this comes competition for stars. Awards shows are hotly wooing studios, which are happy to play along, despite the exorbitant cost of transporting talent and entourages among events in L.A., New York and the U.K.

That willingness is partly to placate the egos of actors and filmmakers, who like to know their studio is behind them. More importantly, studios know the promotional value of awards shows: They’re essentially splashy infomercials for new pics.

Since its switch from cable to NBC in 1996, the Globes have been touted as a high-profile Oscar bellwether as well as a promo tool aimed at Acad voters.

For years the HFPA event was held while Oscar voters still had ballots in hand. But in 2005 the Globes will air its 62nd annual show on Jan. 16, a day after Oscar ballots are due.

While this shift has rattled the Globes’ positioning as an Oscar forecaster, the shorter season gives the show more importance in terms of campaigning.

Even before the Oscar shift, however, the Globes were growing in popularity: Nearly 27 million people tuned in last January, up from 22 million in 2000.

The HFPA is a small fraternity of scribes — many of them eccentrics — who write for overseas outlets.

And at a time when foreign box office is increasingly important, the Globes can help with international marketing.

“It depends on the release of the film overseas,” says Camela Galano, prexy of New Line Intl. “But if a film is in release — for example, ‘Birth’ — that’s very positive for us. Does it mean we spend another huge sum of money because of it? It depends. If it’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ or a film that gets a number of nominations, maybe we would.”

Either way, Galano says the Golden Globes as a brand has influence abroad that other awards shows don’t: “The American awards — SAG, the National Board of Review — don’t mean anything internationally. Only the Academy, the Golden Globes and, in the U.K., BAFTA.”

Not everyone concedes the Globes’ overseas clout.

“The Globes’ function is as a domestic thing, not an international thing,” says DreamWorks marketing honcho Terry Press. “It’s more about Hollywood and is timed to our Academy Awards, not people’s international release schedules.”

For years, studio execs dismissed the Globes, wondering how the HFPA became so powerful. But although execs and campaigners rolled their eyes, they scrupulously attended the show and made sure their stars did, too.

Now no one is pretending. Hollywood admits the Globes matter.

“The Golden Globes have taken on a life of their own, probably much to the chagrin of the Academy,” says Paramount Classics prexy Ruth Vitale. “I think they have an incredibly entertaining show. It feels like a very large, wonderful party. It’s a dinner, so it’s a different environment against the backdrop of an awards show.”

In the process, Hollywood’s “fun” awards show has become more sedate, with fewer slurred acceptance speeches and not as many honorees on bathroom breaks when their award is announced. The Globes have almost become — yikes — the establishment.

Globe nominations mark a shift in the awards season. While crix orgs’ nominations are often esoteric, the HFPA usually has been the first group to weigh in with populist taste — choices that tend to show up on Oscar night, such as “Titanic,” “Gladiator,” “Chicago” and “Lord of the Rings,” which won few or no crix awards.

This year’s roster of Globe nominees, unveiled Dec. 13, reflects the org’s growing savvy, mixing critics’ darlings such as “Sideways” with more mainstream fare like “The Aviator.” The HFPA spread its votes wide, with 17 of the 30 films cited receiving one nom apiece.

Yet to many, it’s the show, stupid, not the award.

Says one awards maven, “Your agent can’t get you more money because you won a Golden Globe, like you can with an Oscar.” However, the show offers “as appealing a group of celebrities for an American audience as possible. With that as your drawing power, it’s a very important evening for the publicity and promotion of motion pictures.”

To this end, the Globes is straightforward about its product: stardom.

“The formula is star after star after star presenting different awards, without people singing songs, without people dancing, without emcees taking center stage,” HFPA prexy Lorenzo Soria says. “And if they’re not presenting or winning, you see them eating and drinking and hugging friends, and crying and laughing. And I guess in our culture people are fascinated by this sight.”

Veterans agree the show’s production values have vastly improved, as has the efficiency of the red-carpet scene, which one Oscar campaign consultant says “used to be chaos.”

The 2005 show will have more innovative camerawork, says Barry Adelman, co-exec producer of the Globes with Dick Clark, in order to show “more table-hopping, more intimacy.”

However, while the Globes solidifies its status as Oscar’s second-in-command, the Screen Actors Guild awards show and the Broadcast Film Critics are angling for their own awards thunder.

SAG’s awards show, which airs Feb. 5, reaches the end of its contract with TNT next year. At that point the kudocast could be picked up by a network that could move it to a pre-Globes date in January.

The 81-member Broadcast Film Critics is leaving E! for a Jan. 9 telecast on the WB.

If the HFPA is concerned, the org’s not acknowledging it. Says Soria: “We know it is not easy to establish yourself. Everyone starting now will not have the longevity and the legacy and the tradition we have.”

SAG, like AFI, enjoys a reputation as a respected institution, something that has been an issue for the HFPA over the years.

While it is working to clean up its image, the nature of the HFPA remains hard to grasp. Members’ resumes range wildly, from little-known publications in the Far East to major European magazines. This makes the more unusual members of the group easy targets for generalizations.

Since freelancing is not an easy living, naysayers have dismissed HFPA members as “unemployed waiters.” Newer members have the burden of accounting for the behavior of old-timers, whose idea of the HFPA is a ticket to free food, movies and, most important, the stars.

Every year, on cue, various media outlets bring up the dubious Globe given to Pia Zadora more than 20 years ago and the 1999 incident when nominee Sharon Stone presented members with pricey watches. (The org returned the watches, and Stone said she didn’t realize they were so expensive.)

Guidelines now restrict studios from soliciting members’ opinions about films and sending gifts it wouldn’t send to other journalists.

“The days of being able to send them a lovely gift and think that this can sway them are over,” says Dennis Rice, senior VP of Buena Vista publicity. “But I do believe that it is a small group of people that allows you to provide a lot of personal attention that gives you an opportunity to influence them hopefully in the right way.”

One publicist says gifts for HFPA members hover around the $75 range. But, the publicist adds: “Everyone’s watching you. If I’m a competitive studio, I will call you on it. Studios will call someone like Variety or the L.A. Times and talk about questionable campaigns.”

Nonetheless, “People step over the line all the time.”

But studios can lavish less tangible largesse on members, such as personal attention.

Studios and talent make sure they know the 91 members of the HFPA (including the eight nonvoting ones) by name and entertain them with lunches, dinners, even phone calls.

HFPA members attended a Fine Line-hosted screening of “Birth” at Hollywood’s Arc-Light, including an intimate cocktail session with Nicole Kidman, a few days before Globe ballots were due. Kidman ended up receiving a Golden Globe nom for actress in a drama this year.

While some see this as proof of HFPA taint, members argue that special access — to events and to HFPA press junkets — makes members more competitive journalists, and benefits all parties.

Scott Orlin, a 46-year-old HFPA member who writes for German film mag Cinema, points out, “In a 45-minute press conference, the studios are hitting 30-40 of the biggest international markets in one fell swoop.” This, says Orlin, is as much why the studios heed the HFPA as the Globes.

(Orlin is one of the select HFPA members offered by the org for interviews.)

If there’s one thing that washes away the HFPA’s perceived sins as journalists, it’s the org’s generosity. Between 1995 and 2003 (during years under the lucrative NBC contract), the org has donated, on average, 18% of its annual revenue to charity, for a total of $3.8 million. This year, another $1 million was given, the most the HFPA has donated in one year.

Still some critics

But criticisms persist. Last week, the L.A. Times pointed out that the only star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” who failed to earn a Globe nom was Eva Longoria — the only cast member who didn’t show up at an HFPA gathering. (She was attending to a family emergency.)

But Orlin argues there’s no correlation between attention and honors: “There have been many instances where there has been no press conference and the person has won the Golden Globe.”

The irony about the Globes, he adds, is that despite all the scrutiny the HFPA receives, “The people who criticize us the most always still want a ticket to the show.”

Timothy M. Gray contributed to this report.

(The Golden Globes program this year will be published by Variety‘s custom publishing arm, which does not utilize Variety editorial resources.)

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