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Hollywood Film Awards: Requiem for a Dream

Dubious self-appointed awards season launch retreats to the web after a ratings crash in 2014.

The 19th annual Hollywood Film Awards Sunday will continue the long tradition of Academy Awards tubthumping. However, it has given up any attempt to become a television event: The show, Nov. 1 at the Beverly Hilton, will have no TV presence.

In January 2014, CBS and Dick Clark Prods. had announced a multi-year pact for the show. But the initial telecast, last Nov. 14, delivered a paltry 0.5 rating in adults 18-49 and 4.1 million viewers. An hourlong post-awards program, with Charlie Rose, Nora O’Donnell and Gayle King, was even lower.

For the night, the 0.5 demo rating and 3.7 million viewers overall were less than half what CBS scored the previous Friday with its entertainment lineup (1.2 in 18-49, 8.3 million viewers in total). Variety reported that the 0.5 average for CBS on Friday was at that point the lowest for any night of original programming on a Big Four network that season.

Honorees this year include Robert De Niro, Will Smith and Jane Fonda, with many other individuals and groups slated for awards. And, by huge coincidence, all of them have a film with Oscar hopes. According to the HFA website, “The criteria for these awards is based on the recipient’s body of work and/or a film that they have coming out this year.” Exactly.

The HFA has trademarked the motto “the official launch of the awards season,” though many industry people consider the real start to be the Venice-Telluride-Toronto fest events starting in late August. The New York-based Gotham Awards in late November are a more transparently juried alternative as well.

Three years ago, Quentin Tarantino wondered aloud why he was getting an award for a film not yet completed (“Django Unchained”), while presenter Seth Rogen cracked wise about the mysterious nature of who, exactly, does the awarding. The voters are described on the website as an advisory team of “a cross-section of Hollywood professionals.” Sources said that this year, the advisory team had been “sticklers” about actually seeing the films they were honoring, and more so than usual.

Though there’s little genuine enthusiasm — Chris Rock got big laughs last year when he pretended to be excited by his “Top Five” win — honorees understand it is a campaign stop. For most of the past 18 years, film reps have played along with HFA because it is an opportunity for a contender to declare his or her awards hopes and to mingle with a Hollywood crowd.

But last year, one attendee shrugged to Variety that the HFA was “a phony awards show.” Blogger Sasha Stone of the Awards Daily website tweeted, “It isn’t a competition so much as a publicity arrangement.” Publicists and consultants routinely bemoan participating.

So if the show’s lack of real value isn’t lost on anyone, from reps who hold their noses and accept invites on behalf of clueless clients to even the network that dumped it after just one year, then why does Hollywood keep playing ball?

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