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THE 10TH ANNUAL CRITICS’ CHOICE AWARDS
WHEN: Jan. 10, broadcast live on The WB at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
WHERE:The Wiltern Theater
WHO: Hosted by Eric McCormack, star of “Will & Grace.” Presenters include Hilary Swank, Jamie Foxx, Alissa Milano, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Treat Williams, Debra Messing, Lauren Graham and Christine Lahti.

In the battle for kudocast glory, the next contender to step into the ring is the Critics’ Choice Awards.

The kudosfest and its organizer the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. are celebrating their 10th anniversary by moving from cabler E! Entertainment, its home for the past four years, to the first of three annual live broadcasts on the WB.

And while Joey Berlin, the head of the org’s board of directors, says the move to a network broadcast was one of the org’s goals from the start, success is far from guaranteed.

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The competition among awards shows has grown increasingly intense. The Oscars moved their telecast to late February partially to preserve its status at the top of the heap, and attempts by other awards to gain a toehold on TV — besides the Golden Globes with its healthy presence on NBC — have at best struggled. The American Film Institute jumped into the fray in 2001 with a CBS special, but it was rated so low that the org pulled out of the broadcast game, while the SAG Awards has moved its telecast up three weeks this year after its aud on cabler TNT dropped 31% last year.

Berlin, who’s also exec producer of the kudoscast, says the org, comprised of TV, radio and online critics in the United States and Canada, is in a good position to find success on network TV. “If you total the audiences of the 194 members of the BFCA, we reach an awful lot of people,” he says. “We said for a long time that the first opinion a moviegoer hears about a movie is from our members. We do have a connection witht the audience.”

To maximize its appeal to the WB’s young aud, the kudocast will pump up its usually strong star quota by giving Tom Cruise a distinguished career achievement award and adding categories for best soundtrack and most popular movie.

Bob Bain, producer of the broadcast and veteran of dozens of awards shows, says the show will sport improved graphics packages, better music and a format similar to the Golden Globes with stars sitting at tables and alcohol being served. Bain says Eric McCormack, star of “Will & Grace,” was chosen as host because of his comedic background. “We’re trying to create some opportunities for spontaneity and that search is usually much more fruitful in the hands of a comedian,” he says.

David Janollari, the WB’s president of entertainment, says the show is a good fit for the network. “This award franchise became available and the thinking was this could turn into a real franchise that gets out in front of the Oscars. It’s been historically pretty right on.”

That track record is one of the strongest selling points of the show. Since 1997, the BFCA has nominated 10 films a year for its picture honor; 37 of the 40 films nommed for a picture Oscar in that time were Critics’ Choice nominees first. The Critics’ Choice best picture winner has gone on to win the equivalent Oscar trophy each of the last five years.

Last year, the first the BFCA had five noms for actor and director races, the Critics’ Choice successfully predicted the Oscar winners in actor, actress, both supporting categories and director. It also matched Academy voters on foreign-language film and animated feature.

The awards’ schedule also gives it the potential to influence the Golden Globes and Oscar races. Final Globes ballots are due two days after the Critics’ Choice winners are announced; nominating ballots for Oscars are due Jan. 15 — after the Critics’ Choice honors but before the Globes winners are announced.

Berlin says that with the org having reached the network level, its next goal will be to try to rival the Golden Globes. “If the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s choices for the best in filmmaking at the end of the year are so significant, then you look at the members of our group in comparison to them in terms of reach and impact in the United States and Canada, we think that’s a reasonable goal.”