Awards show controversies bring in audiences

The morning of Oct. 3, America was YouTube-ing Danny Bonaduce’s onstage physical confrontation with “Survivor’s” Jonny Fairplay at the Fox Reality Really Awards. In that moment, the world may have seen the future of award shows — the onstage train wreck.

Kudocasts have been trying new hooks to bring in viewers. Yet some feel it’s the chance of seeing a celebrity meltdown, especially a hated celebrity, that will motivate auds to tune in.

In the case of the VMAs, it was Britney Spears’ zombie performance and Tommy Lee and Kid Rock’s fistfight that made the show noteworthy.

“There are as many people who wanted to watch Britney screw up as people who wanted Britney to do well,” says Skip Mahaffey of WFUS Tampa. “More people are gratified by watching stars fall.”

An Oscar perf like Spears’ VMAs display would be the Acad’s worst nightmare, as the Oscars so much want to put the industry’s best foot forward.

Yet as images of celebrity misbehavior become more common, some audiences are starting to expect them — and demand them.

“Excellence doesn’t always equate to ratings,” says Chio of WRDW in Philadelphia. “They’ve got to create some kind of drama, some kind of excitement among the people out there. A crazy Britney Spears or a crazy Anna Nicole Smith or someone who will be performing with his butt cheeks hanging out, that’s how you get people watching.”

Yet as the public appetite for celebrity humiliation is getting larger, the top-tier events are getting more buttoned-down.

Even the Golden Globes ceremonies, once known for their relaxed, well-lubricated vibe, have become more staid as their importance to Oscar campaigns has grown.

Kudocast producers are aware that controversy lures viewers, but creating it is another matter. Golden Globes exec producer Barry Adelman says you can put elements in place but you can’t manufacture moments. “Every surprise we’ve had in the show has been just that — it’s impossible to predict how they’re going to happen and where they’re going to come from. It doesn’t matter what you’ve prepared, nature just takes its course.”

Sometimes, though, “nature” gets a little help. Fox Reality’s programming honcho Bob Boden says about the Really Awards, “There was an open bar. Whenever you have alcohol and reality stars in one place, who knows what’s going to happen.”

Of course, the Fox Reality Really Awards are hardly a top-tier event. At least not yet.

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