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New Hollywood Film Awards: More Mystery Than Suspense

Just what Hollywood needs: Another awards show!

On Nov. 14, CBS will debut the Hollywood Film Awards, the first TV airing of rites that have been around for 17 years with the motto “the official launch of the awards season.” No kidding, they have literally trademarked that phrase. Putting aside the question of who made it “official,” the ceremony raises other questions.

The primary one: Who is voting on these things and what are their criteria?

The Hollywood Film Awards have been synonymous with Carlos de Abreu, who started the event and basically ran it as a two-person show, with wife Janice Pennington. In January, it was announced that CBS and Dick Clark Prods. were taking over. In the past, winners were announced in advance, but this year, only categories were unveiled, with winners to be announced night-of.

According to the awards’ website, the choices are made by the HFA Advisory Selection Team, which “includes film industry insiders and executives. We do not disclose Selection Team member names to protect their privacy. … Our advisors are invited by the HFA founder and selection team chair, Carlos de Abreu.”

That clarifies things, but not really. Mark Bracco, exec VP of programming and development for Dick Clark Prods., said it’s doubtful they will reveal the names, because some might be on the team again in the future.

They don’t have to tell the media, but they should tell somebody. Back in 1966, NBC offered the first national broadcast of the 22-year-old Golden Globes. In 1968, NBC was admonished by the FCC for misleading the public: NBC had announced during the telecast that winners were chosen by a poll. Not true, said the FCC: The winners were chosen by informal politicking, based on who would show up.

Shocking, shocking! That kind of stuff would never happen today!

Another question is how much a kudocast’s DNA changes when it goes before the camera. Showbiz people often say their favorite events are AMPAS’s Governors Awards in November, the AFI Awards luncheon in January, and the Oscar Nominees luncheon in February. These have one thing in common: They’re untelevised. There are no winners/losers, no pressure, no red-carpet commentators — just a celebration of good work. (The producers, directors and writers guilds have avoided TV deals for similar reasons.)

In the past, the fun of the Hollywood Film Awards was due to their looseness and the winners’ skepticism. Two years ago, for example, Quentin Tarantino, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow were among the winners who wondered aloud why they were receiving awards for films still being made. But big names showed up (like Sandra Bullock last year, photo above) because they took the Hollywood Awards seriously as a campaign stop. But nobody was emotional because it was never clear who had chosen them.

Final question: Does this affect the Golden Globes? DCP also produces the Globes, and has had legal tangles with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. Some in Hollywood have wondered whether that was a factor in DCP’s decision here. Absolutely not, says Bracco, rattling off their numerous music-awards events. “We have a lot of shows on a lot of different networks, and all our shows are months apart, with different partners.”

The 1968 FCC reprimand was a PR black eye for the Hollywood Foreign Press, who have been knocked by fellow journalists ever since. An old reputation is hard to shake. This year, you can bet money that journalists covering the Globes will make Pia Zadora wisecracks, even though that occurred more than 30 years ago. Current HFPA president Theo Kingma and his team have worked hard to clean up its reputation, and have done a good job.

The Hollywood Film Awards could take a tip from them, and reveal judges’ identities and criteria as soon as the ceremony ends. And their goals should be clearly outlined ASAP: Do TV viewers know why they’re tuning in?

They know it’s awards, they know Queen Latifah hosts, and they know it’s “the official start of the awards season.” And maybe that’s enough for them.

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