HFPA turns to Ricky Gervais to boost ratings, buzz

If the past week of awards-related turmoil has highlighted anything, it’s that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. have two very different sets of priorities when it comes to their kudocasts.

Wednesday’s confirmation of Ricky Gervais as the host of the Golden Globes highlights the differences even more clearly. Both entities say they’re interested in generating bigger ratings, but one of these orgs is not like the other.

While the Academy very much wants to keep ABC happy about its hefty license fee by attracting a younger demo, it is equally eager to uphold tradition and maintain the serious — but often staid — luster that has become Oscar’s calling card.

Exhibit A: appointing Brett Ratner as producer for the 2012 ceremony, then being shocked (shocked!) when his well-documented rough edges became headline news.

AMPAS prexy Tom Sherak wanted attention when he appointed Ratner, and he might still have achieved that with some damage control after the director’s gay slur became a flashpoint.

Instead, the Academy moved quickly to distance itself from the whole, hoping the easy-listening stylings of Brian Grazer and Billy Crystal would wipe the incident from the town’s consciousness. It’s as if the Academy stepped outside, saw that it was raining, and decided never to leave the house again.

By the way, it’s hard to get younger viewers interested in watching a three-hour ceremony that honors films they haven’t seen while celebrities thank people they’ve never heard of, regardless of the host and producer handling the telecast.

The HFPA, on the other hand, is capitalizing on its reputation for being the more fun counterpoint to the Oscars (though it has strived for respectability in recent years) by welcoming back Ricky Gervais for round three as host.

For the HFPA, ratings considerations clearly trumped any residual bad feelings its members may have had over Gervais’ Globes emcee stint last year. And while NBC’s standards and practices overseers might blunt his edge, Gervais likely signed on with the caveat that no celeb or subject matter would be exempt from his ridicule. It’s not like he needs the work.

Yes, it’s important for the Oscars to remain Hollywood’s highest honor, which gives the Globes a little more leeway. But it’s equally important for the Academy to decide who the Oscars are for: the TV audience or the industry.

It’s pretty difficult to serve both well.

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