Following an announcement Tuesday morning that the A&E network will be partnering with Entertainment Weekly on a multi-platform content and promotional deal for the upcoming Critics’ Choice Awards, key members of the Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. have resigned in protest.
TVLine’s Michael Ausiello, Variety‘s Debra Birnbaum, Media Village’s Ed Martin, and Buzzfeed’s Jarett Wieselman — all of whom served on the BTJA’s executive committee — are among the names to step down. Also leaving are Us Weekly‘s John Griffiths, TVLine’s Matt Mitovich and Vlada Gelman, TV Guide’s Matt Roush and Jim Halterman, IndieWire’s Michael Schneider, YahooTV’s Kristen Baldwin and Ken Tucker, and Variety‘s Maureen Ryan.
“What I loved about the organization, and the awards themselves, was they were never about one media entity,” Ausiello, who formerly worked for Entertainment Weekly, said in a statement to Variety. “It was about the entire industry coming together to recognize the best in TV. Unfortunately, it’s now becoming a marketing event built around a single brand, and that’s not a shift I’m comfortable with — even if it’s a brand I happen to love.”
The upheaval could not have come at a worse time for the BTJA as deliberating for television nominations begins Tuesday. The org’s nominating committee is tasked with narrowing the field in the drama and comedy categories for the entire membership to vote upon, but nearly half of them have now stepped down.
“A handful of BTJA members did resign today, but the Critics’ Choice nominating committees will continue their work and TV nominations will be announced on Nov. 14 as scheduled,” Joey Berlin, president of BTJA, said in a statement.
Berlin also mentioned that he was completely surprised by the reaction to the partnership.
“Horrifying,” one member of BTJA sister group the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. said plainly when asked about the partnership. Another noted an unfortunate irony: “The Critics’ Choice Awards is hitching its wagon to the publication that laid off or bought out its film critics,” the member said, referencing the departures of long-time contributors Lisa Schwarzbaum and Owen Gleiberman (who now writes for Variety).
The controversial partnership marks yet another internally questioned maneuver by the orgs (I am a member of each). Last year, as part of an on-going effort to compete with the Golden Globe Awards, the BTJA and BFCA combined their separate ceremonies for one umbrella show celebrating the best of film and television. This ballooned the event into a three-hour affair that some members felt was unwieldy.
Later in 2015, citing an “unprecedented cry out” from the membership, BFCA brass polled the group on whether “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” should be voted into the best picture lineup after nominations had already been announced. The reason given was that the film did not screen in time for the voting deadline. Ultimately, it was indeed chalked up for a nomination.
Conceding that some members felt the poll was “outrageous,” Berlin also admitted at the time that “it would be foolish to suggest that the incredible popularity of the film [wasn’t] a factor” in the decision.
Two members publicly resigned in protest to that move: Salt Lake City Weekly critic Scott Renshaw and Kansas City Film Critics Circle president Eric Melin. “In order for a professional critics body to have integrity, nomination and voting guidelines must be consistent with the way they were laid out at the beginning of the process,” Melin wrote in his resignation letter. “Unlike the other nominations, this was not decided upon using a weighted ballot of all possibilities, and it smells like a desperate ploy to get better TV ratings.”
Any logic about having voted too early apparently flew out the window this year, though, when a decision was made to shift the overall timeline up a full month. In an effort to preempt the New York and Los Angeles film critics groups’ announcements, Berlin and company announced in August that nominations for the combined show would be revealed on Dec. 1, with the ceremony on Dec. 11. Squeezing the timeline on viewing and voting for a membership that’s scattered across the country, purely to be perceived as the “first” critics group weighing in on the year, left some wondering whether they’d even see the requisite contenders in time.
And the process surrounding the establishment of this year’s inaugural Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, happening Thursday Nov. 3 in New York, also ruffled a few feathers. Some on the nominating committee complained that they weren’t given the authority they were promised at the outset as it pertained to separating TV docs like “O.J.: Made in America” from the film side and having to, as one member told me, deal with “dictatorial chairmanship” and a “rushed and haphazard” process.
It seems clear that Berlin and company have some work to do in fortifying internal relationships, but for now, it’s full speed ahead.
“We hate to lose any members,” Berlin said in his statement, “but there are 400 members in the BTJA and BFCA and the show must go on on Dec. 11 on A&E.”
According to their website, the BTJA side of the org now lists 70 members, minus the recent resignations, and includes Bob Bain, the show’s producer; host T.J. Miller; as well as Berlin himself.
Updated 11/2, 8AM PT: This story has been updated to reflect additional resignations.