Airing awards shows may not add up

WGA, DGA and other groups remain off the air

When so many awards shows flood the television airwaves this time of year, it’s surprising that some groups — the WGA, DGA, critics orgs — have not made a TV deal. In fact, some say they don’t want a TV deal.

There is the question of maintaining control and integrity. But, like everything else in Hollywood, money is always a factor — and sometimes the figures don’t add up.

Obviously, no organization would get anywhere near the $50 million-plus for the Oscarcast. But with tidy TV deals for the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and SAG Awards, you’d think an org could get a million or two, right?

Wrong. One high-profile group was in talks for a cable broadcast. But the organization realized that for TV, they would need to spruce up the set, augment the lighting, and factor in added costs for the celebrity presenters. They figured the bill would increase $300,000 — but the cabler offered them a license fee of only $50,000.

In theory, a kudocast could build an audience over the years, and increase the license fee gradually, but some say it’s not worth it.

A TV deal changes the DNA of the event. With a private awards handout, the focus is on the recipients. But if the kudocast is televised, the show becomes basically a TV taping in which awards are handed out between commercials.

DGA president Michael Apted said broadcasters frequently woo the guild, but they always decline.

“Some of our awards are very sexy, like feature director, but there’s a whole chunk of awards that aren’t of general interest and I’d hate to put these under some sort of pressure. I would worry that broadcasters would say ‘this isn’t sexy’ and would want to change things.

“We honor the craft,” Apted emphasized, “and we do it at an event where members can let their hair down.”

When it comes to deals, others say they’re playing it by ear. WGA prexy Patric Verrone says, “We are keeping our options open.”

AFI prez-CEO Bob Gazzale was around for the group’s first (and last) televised awards show on CBS in January 2002. It was the first post-9/11 kudocast and few nominees showed up — and not many viewers did either.

Though AFI has other TV deals (life achievement prize, 100 great movie moments, et al.) and CBS was willing to try another go-round with the kudocast the following year, Gazzale said, “It was clear that our goals did not match the goals of TV. We felt like the AFI Awards identity was being lost by conforming to television’s needs.”

The AFI board asked then-topper Jean Picker Firstenberg and Gazzale, “What would you do if you could do anything?”

The result is the annual private luncheon that honors 20 works of the year, divided evenly between film and TV. “We open every lunch with the same word: ‘Relax.’ It’s not about what anyone’s wearing, it’s about the work. There are no winners, no losers, no disappointed reaction shots — which doesn’t make for great television,” Gazzale says.

And while the Oscar ceremonies are the centerpoint and climax of the entire awards season, many kudos vets say their favorite event is the annual nominees luncheon — which has been held for the past 27 years and which, significantly, has never been televised.

So, with threats of a SAG strike looming over the coming awards season, all of you orgs with TV deals can take heart. If it ends up that your ceremony is not televised, don’t worry about those millions in lost income! As they say at AFI, “Relax!” Just realize that you’ll be broke but having fun. And in these times of economic hardships, isn’t that what’s important?

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