Globe glitch puts spotlight where it belongs

THE IDEA of a slimmed-down, understated Golden Globes evoked this momentary pang about the writers strike’s collateral costs: “What, no jumbo shrimp at HBO’s poolside party?”

Then sobriety kicked in, and another thought took over: What a relief.

Stripping award season down to actually being about the movies would be the only welcome fallout from this otherwise-depressing work stoppage, providing a respite from the ridiculousness that has come to characterize the prolonged red-carpet gantlet.

Granted, there’s no shortage of media outlets (including this one) that profit handsomely from the proceedings, so much so that ad-starved newspapers obsess over awards minutia as never before. Hard as it is to believe, a few years ago the Los Angeles Times contemplated scaling back coverage of second-tier ceremonies and reserving blanket attention for the academy-backed peer awards — the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys. Today, “No amount of coverage is too much” is the mantra.

Still, it’s a good bet few industry denizens truly look forward to sitting through the presentations themselves, which, like other made-for-TV events, have become a bloated blur — inane backstage questions, Vegas-style prognostication and shouts of “Who are you wearing?” from equally well-dressed TV personalities.

NOTHING EXEMPLIFIES this better than the hoopla that’s surrounded the Globes since NBC shrewdly acquired the showcase in the mid-1990s, elevating the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s profile beyond all reason.

Without intending to slight the 80-some-odd members (OK, perhaps a little) — who cleaned up their act from the infamous days when Pia Zadora’s husband bought her a trophy — the Globes’ perceived importance is the height of manufactured awards mania. Not that there’s anything wrong with reveling in the good vibrations, but shaping the HFPA or broadcast critics’ accolades into a ready-for-primetime lovefest makes as much sense as determining the next president based on Iowa and New Hampshire.

Part of this has to do with feeding the gnawing hunger for seeing celebrities in unscripted moments. In addition, as moviemaking has divided into awards bait and popcorn fare honoring worthy films has receded as a priority, playing second fiddle to who the stars are squiring and the cottage industry devoted to their clothing and hair.

Unfortunately, the public’s appetite can only accommodate so many events, and the proliferation of televised awards has cannibalized interest in the primary telecasts. Even the brightest stars grow a little dim after delivering the same thank-you speech a half-dozen times (alright, maybe not Helen Mirren), yet pundits have the gall to wonder why ratings have diminished.

THE BOTTOM LINE is the TV altar requires sacrifices, as Don Mischer — who has produced plenty of award shows and big events — once told me, citing the pressure to front-load staged bits to avoid the dreaded “dull” word. “So many times when I did the Emmy Awards I’d get halfway through and think, ‘How did we get here, where I’ve got 22 seconds to let Meryl Streep talk? Something isn’t right,’” he said.

The same is true in sports. I attended a college football game awhile back that wasn’t televised, and unburdened by TV timeouts the day sped by, compared to the 3½ hours-plus devoted to recent bowl matchups that sometimes dragged on ’til midnight on the East Coast.

So the show won’t go on, despite NBC’s ingenious if transparent attempt to circumvent picket lines and preserve its payday. Using his lemonade recipe, CEO Jeff Zucker sought to transform the evening into “Today” and “Access Hollywood’s” bastard child, but the proposed solution merely highlighted just how much of a corporate tool NBC News has become.

STUDIO HONCHOS have done their best to accentuate positives during the strike, such as reducing wasteful spending on series development, which is mostly PR hogwash. Whatever the cause, though, there’s merit in taking a breath and remembering what the awards are ostensibly about, accepting on faith that winners are grateful to a laundry list that includes their current agents — the ones they’ll soon replace with bigger-name representation.

Eventually, the writers will return and award inanities will again flow freely, as surely as the media will descend on Iowa in 2011. Forgive me, then, for enjoying the serenity while it lasts.

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