Award shows could be next victims

Strike puts many question marks on film galas

With awards season here, some of the biggest questions in Hollywood have little to do with who will win.

The standoff between AMPTP and WGA could put striking writers on a collision course with the Golden Globes, Grammys, SAG Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Awards.

All major awards shows that are telecast use writers. So there are questions: what will shows look like without a script; whether they could get a waiver for the use of writers; whether kudocasts will be picketed; and whether stars would cross picket lines to attend.

And, in the case of the Academy Awards, what will happen to Jon Stewart, since he’s to host the show but has not shown up for his own “The Daily Show”?

People connected with the shows are providing no answers because there are too many variables; nobody knows when the strike will end.

And the WGA says it’s too preliminary to comment on whether it will call a truce for the awards shows.

Leslie Unger, director of communications for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, summed up the feelings of everyone involved in awards: “With regard to the Oscar show, we don’t yet know how the strike may impact us. It’s still a few months away and our fervent hope is we’ll have a show that’s everything it should be.”

The networks have been mostly quiet about any awards shows; one exec noted that most of the shows “are still months away, and hopefully this will all be resolved by then.”

And, a key question: What about the Writers Guild awards? A spokesman for the WGA said simply “At present, it’s too preliminary to comment” and assured that the awards are still slated for Saturday, Feb. 9.

The season’s first kudocast is Sunday’s American Music Awards. That show was written before the strike, and show producers said that Jimmy Kimmel will host, but that he will not be doing any ad-libbing during the telecast.

The writing for most awards shows begins after the nominations are announced.

So the first question mark is the Grammy Awards telecast, which begins to take shape after the nominations are announced Dec. 6. The Grammys have the benefit of a multitude of musical performances to fill its three-hour show and only about 10% of the 110 categories are announced on air.

“The tipping point is the announcement of the nominations, but we do have conversations year-round with our production team,” said Recording Academy CEO and president Neil Portnow. “We always talk about what-ifs, but it would be quite early for any script discussions.”

The Grammys, airing Feb. 10, are the org’s 50th and to commemorate the golden anniversary, CBS is airing a 50th years of Grammys special on Nov. 30 that was written before the strike and is currently in post-production.

“That’s major piece of broadcast programming before the telecast,” Portnow said. “Certainly there are a number of promotional situations — talkshows, live (interviews) — that aren’t related to this situation. We’re feeling confident that we’re OK.”

Thursday, Garth Brooks announced he would not make any appearances on talkshows, in support of the writers. No artists or their reps have said anything to the Recording Academy about staying away from the show if they would be required to cross a picket line.

“Bottom line,” Portnow said, “the show will go on.”

Globes concerns

Next up is the Golden Globes, which announces nominees Dec. 13, with the show airs Jan. 13. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and NBC usually employ two or three writers.

Barry Adelman, Globes executive producer, said in a statement, “We’re hopeful the issues pertaining to the potential strike will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction before then. In the meantime, we intend to explore all of our available options in the upcoming weeks.”

The SAG Awards, skedded to be televised by TNT on Jan. 27, is an interesting case, since SAG is a sister union of WGA and has gone on record supporting writers, with members standing on picket lines.

“We don’t know yet how it’s going to impact us,” said SAG Awards spokeswoman Rosalind Jarrett. That show uses one WGA writers. Last year, it was Stephen Pouliot, a nine-year vet of the kudocast.

The big show

Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 22 and the broadcast is skedded for Feb. 24.

The Oscarcast uses more writers than the others.

“There might be an Oscar show, but I fear that it will be more it will look more like your high school graduation than it ever has before,” said Bruce Vilanch, who has written material for 16 Oscarcasts, including five years as head writer.

Several insiders said that a prolonged writers strike might help juice ratings on shows that have battled declining viewership. And certainly any picketing would add some new twists to red-carpet coverage.

One talent agent wasn’t sure how actors would feel about crossing picket lines. Talent, after all, could make a compelling case in support of their colleagues when they have a captive audience as they are giving acceptance speeches.

Some have wondered if awards shows might be postponed, but that seems unlikely. Kudocasts require months of logistics (the networks’ scheduling, flying in talent, booking the venue) and it’s not something that can be pulled together at the last minute. And until somebody knows the end date of the strike, this seems like the most remote option.

With tensions high between the WGA and AMPTP, numerous representatives of directors and actors said they will be surprised if the WGA calls a truce for awards shows. The reps said they have no idea yet what they would tell clients should they be faced with crossing picket lines. Most said they would wait to see what everybody else was doing.

TV provides some history for worst-case scenarios. As the SAG and AFTRA strike got under way in 1980, actors opted to boycott that year’s Emmy Awards and AFTRA refused to clear clips of TV shows.

Emmy producers relied heavily on co-hosts Steve Allen and Dick Clark, who replaced original hosts Bob Newhart, Michael Landon and Lee Remick. The broadcast centered the attention on the behind-the-scenes stars of TV, including writers and directors. Presenters even included network execs.

Just one thesp, Powers Boothe, showed up to that ceremony, and wound up winning for “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.” But fellow thesps felt betrayed by his appearance.

Perhaps the most creative example of making do under strike conditions came in 1960, when WGA’s annual awards dinner was held at the outset of what proved to be a long strike. Event opened with a group of top scribes on stage in top hats and tails who launched into “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” But to reflect the state of the biz at that moment, after the scribes belted out “There’s no business…” the curtain came down and the music stopped.

(Phil Gallo, Michael Schneider and Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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