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SAG’s show touts 75th anniversary

Guild rolls out red carpet thanks to WGA waiver

Despite the known unknowns caused by the writers strike that have kept awards ceremony producers on pins and needles, there’s at least one constant to satisfy a red-carpet-hungry public: The Screen Actors Guild Awards show will go on, thanks to a WGA waiver.

In addition to being the one ray of light in an otherwise doubt-stricken awards season, SAG is also commemorating its own milestone — the guild’s 75th anniversary, suggesting anything but a predictable ceremony.

Traditionally during each SAG awards show, one branch of the union is recognized with a tribute. Honors have previously gone to background singers, young performers and voiceover artists — talents whose contributions to their crafts are substantial, though not necessarily obvious. The focus of this year’s spotlight, however, is on SAG’s founders, and to the events that brought them from a small artists’ rights union founded in 1933 to the influential organization it is today. The tribute will take the form of several documentarylike montages outlining the guild’s defining moments.

“Within each one of the pieces, we will look at a decade or two of what was going on in the country, and what was going on within SAG itself,” says the show’s executive producer and director, Jeff Margolis.

Adds producer Kathy Connell: “We will look at what I consider the ‘middle years’ and some of the important things the guild accomplished in those years. And then we look to the future.”

The decades-spanning commemoration must figure into the ceremony’s relatively short two-hour timeframe, during which 13 awards are being presented, not counting a Life Achievement Award to Charles Durning.

Sandwiched between the compromised Golden Globes and the up-in-the-air Oscars, the SAG Awards are young enough to yield surprises and esteemed enough to be meaningful in the grand scheme of the awards season. After all, approximately 20% of SAG’s members are also members of AMPAS, whose actors branch is by far the Acad’s largest, with 1,243 members (producers come in a distant second at 464).

As to whether the 2007 SAG award winners will have an especially heavy hand in foreshadowing Oscar picks, the producers are mum.

“That’s really for the pundits to talk about,” says Connell, before adding, “But we have a pretty good record for it.” In the past decade, SAG’s award for best feature ensemble has aligned with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ best pic honoree five times, making the kudo an Oscar bellwether of sorts.

Having worked on the show for 10 years, Margolis says he still cannot predict SAG members’ preferences. “I’ve never seen any trends. The wonderful thing about this show is there’s no way it’s a popularity contest. These actors vote for actors who are doing good work, and you can really see it.”

For this show, 16 first-time nominees — including Marion Cotillard, Javier Bardem and Tina Fey — will offer a compelling contrast to seasoned contenders like James Gandolfini (14 nominations) and Sally Field (five nominations).

Additionally, the producers are hoping the combination of SAG’s 75th anniversary and the dearth of other celebrity-laden televised ceremonies may inflate attendance and boost viewership, even more so than last year’s record ratings. But they remain cautious in their outlook.

“The very first year when we were putting (the show) together, it crossed my mind once or twice, ‘Is anybody going to come?’ And everybody came the first year,” Connell says. “We’ve always had a 90-95% turnout of our nominees, and this year I expect nothing different.”

TIP SHEET

What: 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards

Where: Shrine Exposition Center, Los Angeles

When: Sunday at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) TBS & TNT

Wattage: Presenters include Josh Brolin, Russell Crowe, Denis Leary, Steve Carell, Denzel Washington, Tina Fey and Emile Hirsch, among others.