Writers strike repercussions felt all around town

The uber-glam Golden Globes is traditionally an affair to remember. Yet last year’s strike-marred awards “ceremony” — which offered all of the glitz of a televised town council meeting — became a night the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. would like to soon forget.

Gone were the A-list stars mugging for rabid paparazzi, the tipsy thank-you speeches and the wild after-parties featuring vamped-up revelers. Instead, viewers witnessed a surreal one-hour “news conference” where an assortment of entertainment journalists soberly ticked off the list of winners.

But the evening’s losses extended well beyond the missing star power. When the quintessential Hollywood party celebrating the year’s best in film and TV was called off days before the event, scores of caterers, florists, limo drivers, set workers and party planners were stranded like jilted brides at the altar. The collateral damage extended well beyond the service industries, leaving tailors, dry cleaners, stylists, makeup artists and the like in the lurch.

The final financial toll on the local economy: $80 million, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

“It was a very stressful and upsetting time for us, obviously,” recalls HFPA VP Mike Goodridge. “We were caught up in a bigger argument between a network and a guild. We were the sacrificial lamb.”

The 91-member HFPA wasn’t able to come to an agreement with the striking Writers Guild of America and ultimately became one of the hardest-hit players involved in the dispute. The nonprofit group had to forfeit the NBC license fee it typically splits with the show’s producer, Dick Clark Prods.

That pricetag alone is pegged at nearly $13 million, though the HFPA, Dick Clark and NBC all decline to discuss exact monetary figures. The HFPA and Dick Clark also ponied up an estimated $1 million-$2 million for production costs, which included venue, crews, sets, lights and security. The two organizations were unable to recoup most of the expenses, though some insurance claims were paid out.

“Although we don’t discuss financials of the Globes or any of our shows, we were sorry for everyone whose income was affected by the ceremony not taking place,” says Barry Adelman, exec VP of television at Dick Clark Prods. “It was a loss not only for Dick Clark Prods. but for the entire production community.”

Even local charities such as Inner-City Arts and Cal State Northridge’s Dept. of Cinema and Television Arts felt the reverberations of the neutered ceremony more than six months later. In July, the HFPA handed out about $750,000 in grants to film schools and nonprofits at its annual installation luncheon — down from $1.2 million in 2007.

“There were no layoffs because we’re already a very lean organization, but we had to make cutbacks on the charitable front,” Goodridge says. “This year, we gave out less than usual.”

NBC might have been the night’s single biggest loser. The Peacock normally takes in an estimated $15 million-$20 million in ad revenues from the three-hour broadcast. Despite the fact that the network didn’t have to pay the license fee, top execs were steamed because NBC also shelled out significant marketing dollars to promote the event.

But if last year’s disastrous situation had any impact on this year’s festivities, the HFPA and NBC say it has been a uniformly positive one.

“The star power this year will be bigger and better than any year in the past,” says Craig Plestis, topper of alternative programming at NBC. “Last year was such a nonyear, so now everyone is really excited about dressing up and coming out this year.”

In fact, Plestis notes that ticket requests for this year’s event, which will feature a tribute to Steven Spielberg, are at an all-time high. And the HFPA says more celebrities than ever have reached out about presenting awards at the upcoming fete.

“The idea is to make sure we do this year as well as we can,” Goodridge says. “It’s always been dubbed a good party. We want to restore it to its full luster.”

As for lessons learned by last year’s debacle, the HFPA points to the old adage: The show must go on. And despite the low-wattage vibe last time, the Globes still anointed a number of winners, albeit absent ones, including Marion Cotillard, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett, Javier Bardem, Jon Hamm, Glenn Close, Tina Fey and David Duchovny.

“It was unprecedented for the HFPA,” says Goodridge of the fracas. “Our older members, who have seen a lot of things, were just stunned by it. We choose to chalk it up to experience. This is a very volatile industry, and you just have to go along with it if you are going to be a part of it.”

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