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Assembling Live Awards Show is One of Showbiz’s No-Win Propositions

Assembling a live awards show is a no-win proposition

Awardshow producers Juggle tasks
Jamie Jones for Variety

Reading over Ken Ehrlich’s resume, with all those Grammy and Emmy telecasts in his past, one question comes to mind: Why would anybody want to produce that many award shows?

The entertainment industry is full of thankless tasks, most of them below the line. But above it, it’s hard to envision a more no-win proposition than overseeing these live events, particularly in the age of unfiltered snark and real-time second-guessing.

Obviously, there’s plenty of glamour associated with award shows, which explains why networks — not to mention a cottage industry of ancillary businesses, from fashion to publishing — are so eager to latch onto them.

From a creative standpoint, though, producing awards is a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you -don’t scenario.

Dutifully include all the expected elements, and the standard reaction is that the show is boring and stodgy. How can networks possibly expect to entice younger demos to tune in, the reasoning goes, if the presentation looks like something their parents were accustomed to watching?

By contrast, try to shake things up and play around with the format, and the result is often awkward — like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters attempting in vain to jam her foot into a slipper that doesn’t quite fit.

Bringing in many new viewers, moreover, is a long shot, so pandering to those tastes (whatever they might be) only risks alienating and irritating the core audience.

Even the raw material that ostensibly powers the whole process — namely, star talent — comes with headaches and caveats.

That’s because there’s ultimately only so much that can be done with them, and not much time in which to do it — either in the planning or the amount of time allotted to mount the televised presentation.

Finally, perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding award shows is the level of control producers can exercise over the finished product.

Because the major awards contain so many obligatory parts within the machinery — from tributes to obituaries to handing out the awards themselves — there really isn’t that much room for electives and taking creative chances.
It’s telling, in fact, how the new awards showcases that keep sprouting up – afforded a blank slate – invariably wind up resembling the old ones.

Even so, the proliferation of award shows — including specials and additional programming built around those events — hasn’t diluted the audience for core franchises, suggesting how entrenched awards are, despite all the sniping they engender.

Having put his stamp on the Grammys, Emmys and several lesser variations on the formula (Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, we hardly knew ye), Ehrlich is a member of a fairly exclusive club, which explains why the same handful of names keeps resurfacing in this context.

And when somebody gets the bright idea to reach outside the box or shake things up, the result is frequently either flawed or, more likely, overhyped, merely putting a few new wrinkles on the same old model.

For those like Ehrlich, who brave these endeavors again and again, that kind of perseverance is worth saluting.
Just please, let’s not build another awards show around it.