Politicos pull from Oscar’s pages

Guest Column

With the country focused this week on the Democratic National Convention, those in Hollywood may have felt a bit left out. Cursed by Pacific Daylight Time, only political junkies with TVs in their offices could watch much of the DNC coverage live. Andre 3000 aside, the festivities in Boston were dominated primarily by the political set.

To put things in perspective, the convention is not all that different from Hollywood’s self-congratulatory orgy, the Academy Awards. Like the Oscars, the convention is far more interesting to those attending and covering it than the rest of us reading about it and watching at home. Like the Oscars, the convention is ultimately a carefully choreographed TV production with few surprises. And, as on the Oscars, Michael Moore can be counted on to grab a few more headlines.

But how do the two events stack up against each other?

The TV Show. As acceptance speeches go, even John Kerry can deliver more fireworks than Peter Jackson. And Bill Clinton always makes for good TV. But the Oscars win this category for a very simple reason: Viewers don’t know who the winners will be in advance. And ratings don’t lie. While 43.5 million viewers tuned in to the ABC kudocast in February, the three broadcast nets combined for just 13.5 million viewers on opening night of the DNC. Advantage: Oscars.

The Campaigns. Awards campaigns don’t offer much as a spectator sport — unless you’re one of the few who can get excited about Tom Cruise discussing his art with Larry King. The presidential wannabes have polls to tell them how they’re doing. The Academy goes into a conniption when anyone asks their members who they’ll vote for. Few, if any, Oscar contenders have had a public meltdown like Howard Dean’s “Yeaaaarghhh!” speech. When awards campaigns get dirty, campaigners make veiled insults about rivals. That’s child play for political operatives. Advantage: DNC.

The Build-Up. Awards season may seem long, but the quest for the Democratic nomination started two years ago (though that’s roughly how long the Weinsteins have been plotting their push for “The Aviator”). The Golden Globes and BAFTAs are fun and all, but neither are as important to ultimate victory as the primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. Until Leonardo DiCaprio starts kissing babies at the Iowa State Fair, we’re going to give this one to the politicos for sheer endurance. Advantage: DNC.

The Parties. The hot tickets in Boston were to the Creative Coalition’s party (in a clothing store — if you spill on it, do you buy it?), where the crowd included Ben Affleck and Minnie Driver, and a GQ party honoring San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom with bold-faced names John Cusack and Affleck (again). As hard as people fought to get on those guest lists, do you think any of them wouldn’t have swapped their ticket to get into Variety‘s Night Before party or Ed Limato’s house? Advantage (by a huge margin): Oscars.

The Media Self-Importance Factor. While members of the media outnumbered politicians at the DNC six to one, that’s a far lower ratio than at the Oscars, where thousands of journos cover several dozen nominees. Still, ABC News has launched an entire new TV channel to carry its convention coverage. No fewer than four newspapers are publishing convention dailies. Why then does it seem most of those column inches and hours of airtime were filled with reporters interviewing other reporters about how there’s no news at political conventions anymore? Hey, media, it’s your party, take the week off! We’re as surprised as you are: We’ll take Joan Rivers over blogging about biodegradable balloons any day. Disadvantage: DNC.

The Change-the-World Factor. This is a closer contest than you might expect. The best-case scenario for the Kerry-Edwards campaign is their extended campaign commercial boosts the pair over President Bush. But it’s three long months until the election, and there will be numerous ups and downs before we have a winner. Academy Awards can mean millions of dollars for the winning studios, and little gold statues have made (and saved) numerous careers. But for the all the hoopla, does the world outside the Kodak Theater and Fleet Center change because of either the Oscars or political conventions? Not much. Call it a tie.

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