Stick a fork in it: H’wood’s banquet biz

This is the time of year when no one goes home to dinner. No one with real clout in the industry, that is.

Not that all the studio and network mavens are gathered at Spago or Mr. Chow. No, they’re crowded around banquet tables at the Beverly Hilton or some other hotel they’d scrupulously avoid if it were up to them.

But it’s not up to them. They are prisoners of the dreaded banquet circuit, which reaches its zenith each fall. As such, the men don their frayed tuxedos (“How could the dry cleaner miss that stain?”) and the women drape themselves in vintage Versace (“My fashion consultant yelled at me when I wanted to wear it to the Emmys last year.”) and they steel themselves for evenings that will be long on tributes and short on conviviality.

The good news about the banquet circuit is that some hundreds of millions are raised for worthy causes each year. The bad news is that it’s unrelenting, ferociously competitive and intensely political. Plus, everyone has to shake hands with people whose calls they’ve been ducking all year.

There are at least 30 banquets scheduled for October alone and, if you steadfastly attend your quota, you will find yourself giving a standing ovation to the executive who reneged on your last deal or cut your retirement plan. And you will keep smiling all the while.

I appreciate the need for fund-raising, but there are questions about the banquet circuit that need re-examination. For example:

  • Why does someone always have to be “honored”? There are just not enough icons around these days whom folks feel happy about honoring. At least the honorees aren’t being given “humanitarian” awards anymore. I remember one banquet honoring a widely hated CEO where the audience broke into unrestrained laughter every time the word “humanitarian” was invoked. (The CEO was fired a year later.)

  • Why do these events have to be dinners? Everyone in town by now has consumed his lifelong quota of tenderized T-bone and microwaved mullet. Why not throw an informal cocktail party and let everyone go home?

  • Why does every banquet headliner act like he’s been hauled in from Las Vegas against his will? Can’t the banquet chairman instruct his visiting stand-up not to open with, “Anyone here from Pittsburgh? Oh, I forgot I’m not at Caesar’s tonight.” Les Moonves doesn’t want to hear Vegas jokes and Rupert Murdoch doesn’t even want to be entertained.

  • If you’re locked into the banquet routine, why not guarantee everyone an exit by 9:30? It’s painful to see guys like Bob Iger who get up pre-dawn sneaking peeks at their watches as speeches drone past 11 — those twitching wrists cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • If you have to serve food, why not go for a burger and beer? Time and again I see top stars at banquets slip $100 to a waiter to get them an In-N-Out burger. If the stars can get comfort food, why can’t the rest of us?

  • I appreciate the fact that various prominent families have their pet charities because an arcane disease has afflicted a family member. But each of us has his own pet cause that never gets a dinner. For decades I have contributed to the American Friends Service Committee, but Quakers don’t do dinners. Once a year it would be great if Hollywood had one big mega-banquet in which everyone could pick a special cause rather than the disease du jour.

Come to think of it, I’d willingly attend that banquet.

I’d even bring my own burger.

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