HFPA looks to recapture glamour and good times

Last year at this time, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. was wringing its hands, rightly concerned that the writers strike would force it to cancel the Golden Globe Awards broadcast, the HFPA’s primary calling card and revenue source.

As it turned out, those fears were well founded. The NBC Globes telecast was canceled after SAG members refused to cross WGA picket lines. Instead, the winners were announced in an hourlong press conference that aired on the network, but did not go out worldwide.

“It was anti-entertainment,” notes Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, “a double cheeseburger without the meat.”

Not only are the Globes back — Strike? What strike? — but there’s a sense that they’ve returned full force, thanks to a glam-packed group of movie-star nominees. Snickers at the Dec. 17 press conference announcing the noms seemed to suggest that Tom Cruise’s nod for his “Tropic Thunder” cameo may have been gilding the lily. But few TV watchers will complain.

“I just don’t want that excitement to be built on what happened,” says Jorge Camara, the HFPA’s prexy, referring to the recent annus horribilis. “But there’s this great sense of community, absolutely. The heat and the buzz are here.

It will be a very glamorous room.”

Gil Cates, who has produced 14 Oscar telecasts, suggests that a hiatus can prove useful. “The opportunity to leave what you’re doing and watch it from a distance and then come back is helpful,” he says. “What doesn’t kill makes you stronger.”

Camara, however, has no desire to tinker with the Globes formula: “We really don’t want to make anything different from what it is, which is celebrating, in a party atmosphere, the talent in motion pictures and television.”

The key for both the Oscars and the Globes, says Cates, is to capitalize on their respective essence: “The Golden Globes is a party, whereas the Oscars are a celebration of excellence.”

What remains to be seen is to what degree the Globes presage the Oscars. Lately, the HFPA voters have not been the greatest Oscar predictors — at least as far as the big prize goes. Last year the Globes gave “Atonement” the nod over “No Country for Old Men,” the Acad’s choice; the year before, the Globes favored the multilingual “Babel” over the Oscar-winning “The Departed.” More startling was 2005, when the Globes crowned “Brokeback Mountain” without even nomming “Crash,” which the Acad blessed.

HFPA veep Mike Goodridge opines on the Globe/Oscar connection: “It’s a media thing, and very flattering, to be honest. I don’t think anyone in the HFPA considers the Globes in the same light as the Oscars. We’re all journalists, after all, and we’re under no illusions. We know that the Academy can make up its own mind and that the Oscars are the big prize. But if the Globes kicks off the countdown, then all power to it.”

A more practical link than overlapping honors is the juice the Globes provide as a ramp-up to the Oscars.

“Last year, people missed the Globes because they do set up the countdown to the Oscars,” Goodridge says. “And the films suffered, because they didn’t get that push the Globes gives them.”

Showbiz, after all, is one industry that seems to thrive on surfeits of various kinds. “Do you care if there were three or four bar mitzvahs in the weeks before yours?” Cates asks rhetorically. “Of course not. It’s your wedding. It’s your big event.”

TIP SHEET

What: The 66th annual Golden Globe Awards

Where: Beverly Hilton, Beverly Hills

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Telecast: NBC

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