Voters vet U.S. ratings, not overseas success

Survey shows HFPA members are more in touch with U.S. shows

American shows are going gangbusters on TV screens around the world, but does that success impact how Golden Globe voters choose their small-screen favorites?

Apparently not.

A survey of a handful of members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. suggests they’re much more attuned to what’s happening with shows Stateside than they are focused on how programs might be faring back in their home countries.

“I don’t think our membership dwells on how shows might be playing back in the home territories,” says Scott Orlin, a 17-year member who writes for a pair of German trade publications.

For one thing, he suggests, many American shows don’t even begin airing in non-English-language territories until a year or so after their premiere Stateside. Moreover, as he and others indicate, Globe voters make a point of trying to privilege what’s new and different among U.S. series, often giving their highest accolades to newcomers that, to their minds, break new ground.

“One of our attributes is that we’re more proactive and progressive in embracing cutting-edge things stylistically and also genrewise (than are some of the American award voters at other orgs),” Orlin opines. “We make a point of looking for what’s innovative.”

He points to the awards given early on to “The X-Files” (which, as it turns out, turned into a huge hit abroad) and to “The Sopranos” (which had huge buzz Stateside but failed to catch on with foreign auds).

Adds Silvia Bizio, a 25-year member of the HFPA who writes for Italian daily La Repubblica and weekly newsmag L’Espresso, “To be honest, I rarely know what’s working on Italian TV until I go visit home and catch up.”

“Lost,” she notes, is slowly picking up steam in Italy, though it already nabbed Globes noms in 2005 and a win last year for top drama.

Bizio says she votes her “own personal taste” and spends oodles of time toward the end of the year catching up on tapes of all the new or returning series she thinks might merit award consideration. She’s not spending time wondering what’s working on RAI or Mediaset channels back in Italy.

Jenny Cooney Carrillo, an 18-year member who writes for film and TV pubs in Oz, New Zealand and the U.K., concurs that members are rarely focused on how U.S. shows are doing abroad unless they’re “truly a phenom,” as in the case of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

And sometimes, Cooney Carrillo adds, the voters have given trophies to shows that made little or no impact abroad, indicating, for example, “Party of Five” a few years ago, which essentially went nowhere outside the States.

In any case, it would mostly be dramas that in theory would benefit from a Globe since comedies typically don’t travel well beyond English-speaking markets.

As for the impact a Globe win might have on the future fortunes of a show abroad, most voters surveyed think it would be minimal at best.

Television is much more national, and programming success is a result of so many factors, whereas a film winning a Globe might make potential moviegoers pay more attention. “On the TV side, it’s doubtful,” opines another member, who doesn’t wish to be quoted by name.

That person thinks it’s possible a Globe might minimally help the DVD sales of a show. “An added blurb on the jacket couldn’t hurt” is how he puts it.

Still, looking at the Globe TV winners over the past 20 years, it’s hard to generalize.

In 1987, “L.A. Law” took home top drama kudos but did only so-so in foreign climes. The 1992 winner “Northern Exposure” got little exposure except in Canada. “The X-Files,” a repeat winner in 1997, was eventually a huge hit almost everywhere, while the winner in 2002, “Six Feet Under,” was buried overseas except for limited cult viewing in the U.K.

Though comedies rarely travel well, Globe voters did recognize three that have found an overseas following.

The 1987 winner, “The Golden Girls,” did reasonable business in a variety of territories — and is even currently being localized in Russia; “Sex and the City,” which won in 2002, does well in several European territories; and “Desperate Housewives,” the 2005 and 2006 winner, is a hit just about everywhere.

One thing that could make a modest difference abroad, Cooney Carrillo suggests, is the impact of the Golden Globes award show itself, since it is broadcast widely in international markets.

“Seeing the awards show could raise the profile of a particular series or presenter or actor and make the audience curious about tuning in to see that show or actor,” she says.

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