Film vs. TV? In Truth, They’ve Been Married for 70 Years

In a prescient Variety column in 1978, reporter Jim Harwood talked about the blurring distinction (artistic and technical) between film and television. He wrote: “Is a ‘motion picture’ any less of an accomplishment if it’s beamed from Hollywood directly to a wall-sized screen in somebody’s home instead of being hauled in cans to something called a theatre? We suppose there will be a lot of arguments about that in the next 50 years.”

Yes, Mr. Harwood, there have indeed been many heated arguments, often centered on streaming services including Amazon and Netflix — and especially during awards time. TV and film seem separate, but, in truth, those two have been deeply connected for nearly decades.

In the 1950s, the DNA of the Academy Awards was forever changed when the ceremony debuted on TV, setting the tone for other kudocasts. And though awards season chatter sometimes centers on films, TV categories are a crucial part of Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Critics Choice and all the guild ceremonies.

Surprisingly, the idea of televised awards was pioneered by the New York Film Critics organization. On Jan. 20, 1952, the group handed out awards at Hotel Algonquin ceremonies, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” as best pic. A few hours later, these presentations were re-created on CBS’ Ed Sullivan variety show, “Talk of the Town.” The following year, NBC aired an afternoon show tied to the N.Y. Film Critics rites, but interest dwindled.

Undeterred, the Academy Awards made its TV debut with its 25th event, on March 19, 1953. RCA was the sole sponsor. Oldsmobile paid $275,000 to sponsor the second Oscarcast, on March 25, 1954. On the following day, an unsigned Variety piece complained that the winners sauntered slowly down the aisle to accept their awards, making the show seem endless. For the record, the show’s running time was 90 minutes.

Accompanying that story was a piece by Daily Variety editor Joe Schoenfeld, under the headline “Ouch! Those Commercials!” He said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should “get assurances from future sponsors that commercials will be held to a minimum.” He added, “Oscar night should [be about] pictures being sold — not cars being oversold.” (Among the actors in Olds commercials was Betty White, the Zelig of television history.)

Schoenfeld suggested the film industry sponsor future Oscars, an idea that was seriously considered for several years.

Despite Oscar’s ratings success — the ’54 show drew an estimated 80% of TV households — other networks and awards-givers were reluctant to commit to TV kudocasts. But the 21-year-old Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. signed with NBC to have a segment of the 1964 ceremonies air on NBC’s variety program “The Andy Williams Show.”

In 1966, the Golden Globes got its own show, bouncing around various networks for several decades, returning to NBC in 1995. That also happens to be the year that the SAG Awards made its debut, also on NBC.

Meanwhile, the majority of showbiz honors — including the AFI Awards and the guilds (directors, writers, et al) — eschew TV deals. They are losing out on income, but the tradeoff is the fun atmosphere at the events, and they can maintain control of the content.

Some people still refer to the September-to-February calendar as “Oscar season,” since it climaxes with the Academy Awards. But in fact, the season is filled with awards for television. For years, TV was relegated to second-class status. But at some point in the 21st century, TV offered artists more creative freedom, and it is growing exponentially in prestige among artists, audiences and awards-givers.

So far, Oscars are still the center of the solar system that other awards shows revolve around. It’s theoretically a celebration of film, but don’t forget: In terms of choices in presenters, date-scheduling and everything else, it’s basically still a television show.

More Film

  • Harvey Weinstein deliberation

    Harvey Weinstein Rape Trial: Prosecutors Claim Donna Rotunno Op-Ed Is Jury Tampering

    Deliberations in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial are slated to begin on Tuesday, but there were plenty of fireworks even before Justice James Burke could give jurors instructions, with prosecutors accusing the former movie mogul’s lawyers of jury tampering. Before the jury was called in, prosecutors vociferously objected to a Newsweek op-ed, penned by Weinstein’s lead [...]

  • Justin Timberlake

    Mr Smith Goes to Berlin with Fisher Stevens’ ‘Palmer,’ Starring Justin Timberlake

    U.K. sales agency Mr Smith Entertainment will bring “Palmer” onto the market at this year’s Berlinale. Starring Justin Timberlake and directed by Academy Award winning director Fisher Stevens (Best Documentary Feature – “The Cove” with Louis Psihoyos; “Before the Flood”), the dramatic feature has been buzzing since shooting was announced last fall. Written by Cheryl [...]

  • Numbers

    Oleg Sentsov on Latido Pick-Up ‘Numbers,’ Directed from a Gulag (EXCLUSIVE)

    BERLIN – For the last six years, for Europe’s movie community at least, the most famous political prisoner in the world was the Ukraine’s Oleg Sentsov. Arrested on trumped-up charges of terrorism in 2014 – Amnesty International compared his court case to the show trials of Stalin – Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment [...]

  • Michel Hazanavicius'The Specials' premiere and closing

    Michel Hazanavicius To Lead Sarajevo Festival Jury

    Academy Award-winning French director Michel Hazanavicius will lead the jury of the 26th Sarajevo Film Festival. The festival will run from Aug. 14 to 21, 2020. After breaking out in France with the Jean Dujardin-led spy farces “OSS: 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies,” and “OSS: 117: Lost in Rio,” the French director broke onto the [...]

  • Run Lola Run

    ‘Run Lola Run’ Set for Bollywood Remake Through Sony and Ellipsis

    Sony Pictures Films India, Ellipsis Entertainment and Aayush Maheshwari (“Baji” and “Ugly”) will co-produce “Looop Lapeta,” an official Bollywood remake of Tom Tykwer’s 1998 German film “Run Lola Run.” In the original, Franka Potente is in a race against time, having just 20 minutes to get a large sum of money in order to save [...]

  • Cannes Fest Unveils Gender-Balanced Selection Committee

    Cannes Fest Unveils Gender-Balanced Selection Committee

    The first international festival to have signed the pledge for gender equality in 2018, the Cannes Film Festival now boasts a new selection committee including five women and five men. The names of the committee members were unveiled by Thierry Fremaux, the director of Cannes Film Festival, and Christian Jeune, the head of the department [...]

  • Ronnie James Dio Documentary Coming From

    Ronnie James Dio Documentary Coming From BMG (EXCLUSIVE)

    The next feature-length film from BMG will be the first-ever career-spanning documentary on legendary heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest and most influential hard rock vocalists of all time, Dio fronted Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Elf, Heaven & Hell and his own eponymous band over the course of a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content