Marks first time telecast has had host since 1995

Add Ricky Gervais to the list of new faces fronting major kudocasts.

The move by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., NBC and Dick Clark Prods. to recruit the Brit comic as host of the Jan. 17 Golden Globe Awards comes as another sign of producers looking to shake up the basic formula for televised kudofests — just as Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris repped departures from the norm as host of this year’s Oscars and last month’s Emmy Awards, respectively.

The talent pool for high-profile kudocast hosts is small and tends to lean toward comics with plenty of experience in front of live auds. Gervais has done his share of standup comedy, but he’s less of a joke-teller than those who traditionally land hosting slots. HFPA execs said Gervais was a perfect fit with the international accent of the Globes, and he works in two mediums — film and TV — that are honored by the awards.

The Globes haven’t had a host since John Larroquette and Janine Turner did the honors in 1995.

“The time felt right. There are very few things that seem such an obvious choice,” said NBC alternative topper Paul Telegdy of Gervais’ selection. “His was the only name we discussed. We agreed on it there and then.”

HFPA prexy Philip Berk said once NBC began pushing for a host, Gervais was the first who came to mind.

Gervais’ Brit version of “The Office,” in which he produced and starred, was a hit in the U.K. before Reveille and NBC gave it an American spin. At HBO, Gervais played a sad-sack actor in “Extras,” which ran for two seasons and concluded with a nearly 90-minute special. He’s also done a standup spec for the pay cabler.

“It’s an environment where I feel I can get free rein as host,” Gervais said. “I have resisted many other offers like this, but there are just some things you don’t turn down.”

On the bigscreen, Gervais recently starred in “The Invention of Lying” and co-stars with Ralph Fiennes in laffer “Cemetery Junction” in 2010. He’s also been part of the cast in the “Night at the Museum” pics, which have been global box office hits.

“He’s a guy who knows everybody in the room, and they’re all fans of his,” said an HFPA member.

The HFPA membership is made up of journalists from around the world, and as much as the Globes are a global showcase, one HFPA member said that having Gervais, a Brit — but a celeb whose sense of humor appeals to viewers worldwide — would offer the event even more publicity.

“This is something we all wanted and certainly wasn’t something we had to fight to get,” a source said. “You miss out on publicity when you don’t have a host. People are of the mindset we would be foolish not to take the opportunity to work with him.”

The HFPA will look at Gervais as a way to boost viewership, which has fallen by more than 5 million from two years ago (20 million in 2007 vs. 14.8 million in 2009) and is at its lowest level since NBC took over the show in 1996.

The announcement of Gervais as host comes following the news announcing Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman as producers of the Oscarcast on ABC next March. The two are scoping out a prospective host for that show.

In his February gig, Jackman concentrated on and was most praised for his song-and-dance routines rather than telling jokes; Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres preceded him as master of ceremonies.

As for Gervais’ role over the three-hour Golden Globes telecast, Dick Clark Prods. exec veep of television Barry Adelman said, “Certainly he won’t be overused. The intention is keep the show as fast paced as always, with an emphasis on the awards.”

Gervais has been a well-received presenter at numerous awards shows. He joked at this year’s Golden Globes that the only way Kate Winslet would win an Oscar is if she appeared in a movie about the Holocaust (as she did this year for “The Reader”). And on last year’s Emmycast, Gervais demanded an Emmy statue from Steve Carell in a bit that was widely cited as the highlight of an otherwise uninspired show.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more