NBC’s swift decision May 10 to cancel the 2022 Golden Globes telecast took most in Hollywood by surprise — even inside the network, where the announcement was made so fast (to avoid news leaks) that it wasn’t widely shared internally beforehand. Days earlier, NBC had placed its support behind the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s plans for reform, and had expressed optimism that the beleaguered organization was on the right path.
But it soon became clear that many in the industry had heard these promises before — and were extremely skeptical that true change was on the way. At NBCUniversal, corporate executives grew weary as forward motion seemed to slow down and they still hadn’t seen a timeline for change.
As the scandals around the HFPA have snowballed over the past two months, the industry’s frustration has mounted. Anecdotal stories of egregious behavior by HFPA members are seen as a sign of Hollywood’s culture of looking the other way when it’s convenient. Entertainment insiders were well aware of the criticisms leveled at the organization, ranging from serious accusations of groping of talent at HFPA events to claims that members shopped their own scripts to creative talent in the heat of campaigning.
“There will be horribly racist questions that are confusing to other people, or [members] saying things that are really deeply inappropriate that we would not accept from anybody else, but it’s excused because it’s the HFPA,” says an industry insider.
After 25 years as the HFPA’s TV partner, NBC has leverage when it comes to making sure the HFPA commits to real change. The Globes were a blip on the winter awards calendar, averaging around 3 million viewers a year, when the show moved to the network in 1996 and turned into a juggernaut.
But the Globes are now damaged goods, and the HFPA would be hard-pressed to find a home beyond NBC for the telecast following months of reports about the org’s financial impropriety and its tone-deaf approach to a lack of diverse representation (including an enrollment with no Black members).
The small and insular nature of the organization has been widely criticized as part of the problem. At the very least, NBCU would like to see the HFPA double its ranks plus one — which would allow the new members to outweigh the number of its returning membership roster.
Others, like Netflix, would like to see that number dramatically expand to 300. At present, membership totals 87.
By last weekend, Netflix, Amazon and WarnerMedia (which includes HBO) had drawn a line in the sand and announced plans to boycott the Globes and the HFPA until reforms are implemented. It became clear that without three of the top winners of Globes over the past few years, there would be no show. Throw in A-list stars like Tom Cruise returning their trophies, and it dawned on NBCU execs that any attempt to rush into a 2022 show would kill the Globes for good.
“It would be a nail in the coffin,” one insider says. Of course, the Globes may already be dead no matter what. But they’ve been on life support before — and it took Dick Clark Prods., along with Turner Broadcasting and then a plum slot on NBC, to turn things around.
The history of the Globes has been one of many downs, before its recent string of many ups. In 1968, the FCC took NBC to task for “allegations that your broadcasts of the ‘Hollywood Golden Globe Awards’ have contained substantial misrepresentations.” After and investigation, it concluded, “[We] believe that your “Golden Globe Award” broadcasts prior to 1968 substantially misled the public as to the basis on which winners were chosen and the procedures followed in choosing them, and that you were seriously delinquent in this respect.”
The FCC even stressed that NBC’s airing of the Globes could affect the license of its Los Angeles TV station, KNBC. That was enough for not only NBC to drop the telecast, but no one aired it for the next four years.
Another turning point for the HFPA came in 1982, when Pia Zadora famously won the Globe for best new star of the year. It was a joke of a win, and exposed just how much the HFPA membership was in the pocket of anyone who paid them off. It was believed that Zadora’s then-husband, billionaire Meshulam Riklis, had bought the award for his wife. Whether or not that was true, it didn’t matter: CBS (which took over rights in 1981) dumped the telecast, and the Globes moved to syndication purgatory for the next six years.
But then Dick Clark Prods., which had taken over the show, managed to find a new home on TBS, where it ran through 1995. Soon, it was ready for primetime. And DCP managed to strike a deal at NBC. The network worked with DCP to put a lot of time and money in rehabilitating the brand, including legal supervision.
Viewership climbed quickly, and by 2004, the show reached its pinnacle of 26.8 million viewers. It was on an upward trajectory, and some started to question if after several years it would be bigger than the Oscars.
In 2018, NBC delivered the biggest windfall the HFPA ever experienced: a new Globes contract with NBC worth as much as $60 million annually — triple what the network had been paying before.
As its coffers swelled, the lack of stewardship and governance has haunted the HFPA. The Globes became bigger, more influential and more profitable as an event. The awards matured, but the HFPA didn’t. “I don’t know if they’re going to be able to adapt,” one executive says. With the ratings down 62% this year (to just 6.9 million), NBCU may also be fine with letting go of that expense.
NBCU also owns the People’s Choice Awards, which is an E! Entertainment brand, but it could very well step up and become a franchise on the broadcast net- work as well. Yet, building a new awards show in an age where existing ones are struggling is a tall order. That’s why NBC insiders nonetheless hope that this sabbatical might actually do some good and revive the Globes as a much more meaningful franchise in 2023.
“The path to survive is to take the year off and do the work,” one insider says.
Adam B. Vary contributed to this story.