Ceremony engages with brisk, star-heavy formula

The Screen Actors Guild Awards event has some differences with the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes. There is no main host, no song-and-dance numbers, the telecast wraps in two hours, and nearly every nominee is a movie or TV star.

To that, SAG Awards organizers say: Vive la difference! “When viewers tune in, they’re pretty much guaranteed that they’ll see nothing but actors — and that’s a huge appeal,” says executive producer and director Jeff Margolis.

SAG, with its all-stars-all-the-time format, apparently has found the recipe for awards show ratings success, particularly during the last several years. Unlike many kudocasts, the SAG Awards have gained viewers annually since 2004, with the biggest increase coming in 2006 when the show started running on both TNT and TBS, after eight years on just TNT alone.

“Our decision to simulcast the ceremony on TNT and TBS gave us the ability to leverage the network brands to target both drama and comedy fans,” says Jeff Gregor, chief marketing officer for TNT, TBS and Turner Classic Movies.

“Each year, we emphasize strong marketing, promotion and publicity surrounding the show,” he adds.

It’s no different this time around. For the SAG Awards’ 15th annual edition, airing Sunday from the Shrine Exposition Center in L.A., there’s been a push to promote several elements of the telecast, including the Life Achievement Award that will be presented to James Earl Jones.

“Talk about an iconic actor,” says producer Kathy Connell. “We’re really looking forward to saluting him, and we think the actors in the audience will, too.”

When acting luminaries have been feted in the past, they receive standing ovations, which is the norm on any kudocast, but sometimes the reaction at the SAG Awards doesn’t end there.

“You don’t know who’s going to get on that stage,” says Connell about the element of surprise, “and you don’t know what they’re going to say, which makes live television wonderful.”

Last year was a perfect example, such as when rising star Josh Brolin accepted the ensemble award for “No Country for Old Men.” As Brolin went through his litany of thank yous, fellow cast member Woody Harrelson, perhaps anticipating an embarrassing omission, piped in with “Coen brothers!” And Brolin, with surly bravado, responded, “I’m taking my time, man. This is my frickin’ moment. All right? Back off, Woody.”

The show was telecast in the almost immediate wake of Heath Ledger’s death, which lent a tone of solemnity to Daniel Day-Lewis’ acceptance of best actor for “There Will Be Blood.” Day-Lewis credited the late actor with giving him a sense of renewal.

“In ‘Brokeback Mountain’ he was unique, he was perfect,” Day-Lewis said from the stage. “And that scene in the trailer at the end of the film is as moving as anything that I’ve ever seen. And I’d like to dedicate this to Heath Ledger.”

Given that Ledger is a posthumous nominee this year for his supporting role in “The Dark Knight,” it’s not a stretch to anticipate more of those emotional outpourings and surprise moments on Sunday night.

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