Escaping ‘Sex’ and Super Sunday

This year's pigskin predicament convinces producers a Saturday shift makes perfect sense

A star-studded awards show for actors and by actors that clocks in at a crisp two hours — what’s not to like about the Screen Actors Guild kudocast?

As a television event, the 10-year-old SAG Awards ceremony was slowly building an audience before running into a buzzsaw last year. Ratings had increased in five of the previous seven runs, but the move to February as part of an accelerated awards season due to an early Oscars date resulted in a Nielsen drop-off, as the kudocast faced stepped-up sweeps competish on the broadcast nets.

An average of 3.3 million viewers watched the SAG Awards telecast in late February 2004 on TNT — up from the first few years for the show on the cabler, but down about 30% from its peak of 4.8 million in early March 2003.

Now, in part to avoid the Super Bowl, the kudocast shifts to Saturday, a lesser-watched night but also one with less competition. More erosion can be expected, though, amid an overall ratings downtrend for kudocasts.

“You know, the shift to Saturday might be a blessing after facing the ‘Sex and the City’ finale last year,” says Jeff Margolis, serving as exec producer of the SAG Awards for an eighth time. “The audience will find our show.”

John Rash, a media buyer for Minneapolis-based Campbell Mithun, says any event that has “the halo effect of Hollywood glitz and glamour” remains a favorite of advertisers.

“For film aficionados and celebrity watchers, there will always be a place for an awards show, and the right marketer can zero in on that audience,” Rash says. “But this year it will be an even more challenging time for the SAG Awards to expand beyond that base.

“There’s a lack of big movies (nominated), plus a good part of that base will be at the multiplexes that night.”

Although Rash agrees with the theory that one of the reasons for the sharp decline in Golden Globes ratings this year is that much of America wasn’t familiar with the nominated films — pointing out that “Million Dollar Baby” had just opened in Minneapolis at the time of the show — Margolis doesn’t see that affecting the SAG Awards.

“People tune in to see the actors,” he says, “and a mixture of TV and movie star nominees that don’t get nominated for other shows.”

It’s this singular focus, he adds, that makes the SAG Awards unique. “It’s about the actors applauding themselves, and they love this show. Almost all the nominees are in the room, and there’s pretty much a pickup for every award.

“They feel like they’ve gone to a friend’s house for dinner.”

While this intimate setting makes for a convivial atmosphere inside the Shrine Auditorium, he says it’s important to remember the audience at home. “Even though you’re celebrating and you’re among peers, you’re still doing a TV show. Writers can’t write too much inside dialogue, so we work closely with them on that.”

TNT exec VP and chief operating officer Steve Koonin wouldn’t comment on the status of contract negotiations for the SAG kudocast — net is in the final year of a four-year deal — but said the event remains one of the cabler’s programming jewels.

“Airing the SAG Awards not only fits beautifully with TNT’s drama branding,” he says, “but also solidifies TNT’s position, both in the industry and among our viewers, as the home for the very best Hollywood has to offer.”

Show airs at 8 p.m. on Feb. 5, live in much of the country and tape-delayed in the West. The show’s no-host, two-hour format is a win-win for everybody.

“The industry really likes it,” Margolis says, “because it’s over at 7 and we get the actors to the after-party early” — where, of course, they watch the West Coast feed.

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