Thursday, August 06, 2009


A pox on all your award shows

By Edward Copeland
From an early age, I suffered from the unfortunate affliction of awardsmania. Of course, it primarily focused on the Oscars, but it extended to the Tonys, the Emmys and some of the lessers as well. Recently however, the three major awards for achievement in film, Broadway and television have all taken actions that have finally forced me to my breaking point and I say, "No more." If they no longer care about their own supposed status as prizes for honoring outstanding achievement in their respective media but instead have decided they really are nothing more than once-a-year TV shows, three-hour or longer infomercials if you will, then I say fuck them. I can still love great film, great TV and great theater without having to be caught up with the nonsense of the various awards seasons any longer. No more predictions. No more surveys. No more speculation. Oscar, Emmy, Tony: You are all dead to me.

Ruining the Academy Awards

When the Academy Awards originally were created in the 1920s, the original movers and shakers of Hollywood intended the award as a way to paint a coat of respectability on the industry which, even in those early days, was a familiar whipping boy for lowering the nation's moral standards. Throughout the years since the Oscars were first presented in 1929 for the split year 1927-28, the Academy has made many changes, some for the good, some for the bad. Certainly, their choices of nominees and winners always have proved frustrating for film fans, but nothing so awful that they required abandonment. Lately, and particularly this year, the changes have become too awful to ignore and they have been motivated less by the quality of the award than of the obsession about Oscarcast ratings itself. People always have complained about the length with some supposed entertainment journalists complaining about wasting time on awards "no one cares about" such as cinematography or art direction. Oscar freaks such as myself do care about those categories because we are there for ALL the awards, not just the big categories and the stars. The funny thing is the David Letterman spilled the dirty little secret about the broadcast after being tarred and feathered after his hosting stint that the show he hosted was running early and ABC officials told him to stretch so they could get more commercials in.

The Oscars consistently are in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each time they air, but the ratings have declined over the years and that makes ABC unhappy. Of course, what they fail to consider is that the television universe of 2009 is not the television universe of 1989 or even 1979 because there is a vast array of viewing options not just the three networks. Then again, who expects entertainment execs to be rational? So where can they place the blame? First, it started going toward who was the host and the design of the show itself. Here is a little test for you all: Ask any obsessed Oscarphile you know if it has ever made a difference to them who was hosting as to whether they watched the show or not. Some years, they've toyed with how they presented awards, gathering nominees on stage, giving awards in the audience, etc. Of course, most of the time no one knows ahead of time that they are going to do this so, once again, they cannot have any effect on how many people are tuning in to see them. Now though they've decided the biggest problem is that the Academy doesn't nominate huge box office hits for best picture such as last year when The Dark Knight and WALL-E failed to make the final five. The funny thing: Despite their omission from the best picture race or a really huge hit in that category, the show's ratings rose substantially over previous years.

This year, the Academy announced that it is expanding the best picture category from five nominees to 10 nominees. Now in the past, the category has had as many as 12 nominees, but that was pre-1944 when it wasn't a TV show and Hollywood produced a greater number of films. Though denied, rumors say that part of the impetus, in addition to the hope of getting box office hits into the running, came from ABC which threatened to cut the licensing fee it pays the Academy for the broadcasting. Now, is this not a conflict anyways since ABC is owned by Disney which has a stake if some of its film titles can worm their way into a diluted best picture race? The worst change, and final straw to me, was a later announcement that the honorary awards, which have provided many of the telecast's best and most moving moments in recent years will now be moved to a nontelevised dinner in November, furthering emphasizing that they don't give a damn about the history of the industry and intend the Oscarcast as little more than a trade show. As a result, I'm not going to predict or promote the Oscars from now on or any of the precursor awards. The other awards themselves share no guilt, but every move they make basically is meant to try to influence the Academy, so all awards of the movie awards season be damned. Love or hate the films, not their trophy chances.

Ruining the Tonys

Really, the Tony Award itself has had the most integrity while the broadcast has been ruined more and more each year by CBS, sticking the technical award categories to pre-broadcast presentations while loading the show itself with irrelevant crap. It reached the nadir with this year's show where they sacrificed live presentation of awards for presentations of road tour numbers of previous season shows such as Legally Blonde, Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys. However, what made the Tonys unique (and probably why so many of its choices are so good) were that the voters in the final ballot not only included theater professionals such as producers and others with money interests in the outcome but theater critics as well. This year though, it was decided not to allow critics to vote anymore citing their "conflict of interest." Yes, people who review shows have conflicts of interest, but people who make money off them don't. In the press release announcing the move, they even mentioned, as if these were negative choices, that shows such as Rent or In the Heights won over theme park rides such as Mary Poppins that producers think will bring in more cash on the road. New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel wrote a wicked column suggesting ways to seek revenge. It's too bad there really isn't an equivalent way for the Oscars and the Emmys.

As for the Tony broadcast itself, Kevin Spacey and others this year finally articulated this year what I've been suggesting for years. If CBS has such little respect for the award, let someone else such as PBS carry the award so that all the awards get their due. Of course, now we realize that not only is the Theatre Wing addicted to its licensing fee, it could care less about whether the best is what is getting honored as well. It's a shame because for a long time the Tony broadcast was consistently the best award show on television. I remember when they used to be able to do numbers from the four nominated musicals and full-fledged scenes from the four nominated plays and still get the whole show done in two hours on the nose. Granted, they have added some categories (the biggest chunk being the recent division of the tech categories into both musical and play categories) but again, it was the addition of more commercials that stretched the broadcast's length.

Ruining the Emmys (further)

To some extent, I've always felt sorry for the Emmys, because they have a monumental task. Even before the explosion of television channels, it would have been impossible for anyone to truly do what it would take to judge the best in TV the way you can judge the best in movies and Broadway. There are a finite number of films and shows, so it is feasible to see all or a good portion of them, but to watch every episode of every series and every special, miniseries or movie that airs on television, that's impossible. The Emmys have tried myriad ways to work with this, settling on series submitting a certain number of their episodes and performers picking out a single episode to highlight. They've played with blue ribbon panels and other groups to try to pick nominees, but nothing has seemed to work. If any award could benefit from letting critics help them at least nominate, it's the Emmys, since they do watch entire seasons sometime and look at things Emmy voters might not take a second look at. However, the endless attempts to fix the process has finally proved too exhausting for me. No matter what they do it's hard to imagine how every single process comes up with a list of nominee that looks like a mimeographed list of the nominees from the year before, year after year after year, allowing such crimes as Scrubs to complete its entire run without John McGinley ever receiving a nomination for supporting actor while the same names show up all the time.

It started last year when they decided that cast members of Saturday Night Live could compete in the supporting categories of comedy series instead of individual performance in a variety, music or comedy series though SNL itself stays in the category of variety, music or comedy series. This year, for some reason, the series acting categories jumped from five to six and Amy Poehler and Kristin Wiig took two of the six slots in supporting actress in a comedy series. Tina Fey's Sarah Palin guest shot also got nominated as guest actress in a comedy series and the category of individual performance was killed outright. I'm not arguing that Poehler, Wiig and Fey aren't talented or deserving, just that they are in categories where they don't belong and deprive nominations from people who actually should be there. The killing of that category was particularly egregious since this eliminates places for nominations for say Hugh Jackman's hosting stint at the Oscars or Neil Patrick Harris' at the Tonys. Still, they were able to add that reality host category last year.

The real controvery this year has come from the decision by the television academy to "time shift" some awards. What that means is that certain categories will be awarded early, taped and edited and then shown in the broadcast later. The idea is supposedly to save time by cutting out the walk from the audience, etc. It sounds good, until you see what categories they are choosing to do this for: movies and miniseries, all dominated mostly by non-network channels. HBO and other non-network nominees are crying foul. More evidence to support their case comes from a category that won't be aired on the broadcast, writing in a drama series, where four of the five nominations went to AMC's Mad Men. The Writers Guild is particularly perturbed by the move. Patric Verrone, president of WGA West, said in a statement:
"This action of the board of governors is a clear violation of a longstanding agreement the writers guilds have with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences regarding their awards telecast. It is also a serious demotion for writing and a fundamental misunderstanding of the importance of writers in the creation of television programs."

Imagine when Hill Street Blues upped the ante for what quality on television meant and often took five out of five nominations in supporting actor if ABC or CBS chose not to broadcast that category in a year they were airing the Emmys. It's time for the networks to stop whining that they can't compete in quality because of "restrictions" and admit they are dinosaurs.

Now, I don't expect my diatribe to be the start of a campaign: It'll be hard enough for an Oscarphile such as myself to quit cold turkey, I don't expect anyone else to agree with me or to follow me. I can't unremember all the Oscar trivia taking up space in my brain, but this year and for the time being, I'm not helping them or the other awards play their game any longer by promoting their farces on this blog.

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Same as every year, I'll be with you. Frankly, I wish more critics would ignore the awards and simply get on with the business of writing about movies. I can't tell you how sick I am of hearing about so-and-so's Oscar chances or the fact that from December to March, every blog around is dominated by chatter about who's nominated, who's going to win, who should win, who did win, blah blah blah. Not to mention the deformations in movie release schedules caused by Oscar-obsessed studios. Who cares? Just watch the movies and write about them, that's what it's supposed to be all about, right? The Oscars have nothing to do with art or quality, and they never have, and it's about time more people started acknowledging this.
Hi there. This is a very good point. Sometimes it is hard to find any reason behind these awards for boring Hollywood movies.. Hollywood awards for Hollywood movies this is what they are. Great blog! Come to visit:
I wish the Academy Awards could go back to what it was in the postwar years: a couple hundred celebrities at a hotel ballroom and a podium. No red carpet, no orchestra. I honestly don't need to watch song and dance numbers or corny jokes and can't say what demographic out there possibly does anymore.

I feel your grumpiness, Edward. Oscarmania has really gone into China Syndrome stage on the Internet. I can understand being passionate about movies, but bloggers so wrapped up in the awards derby are really just promoting the bottom line of the major studios. It would be nice to see some original content out there.
Same old story - I think most people had figured out a long, long time ago that these awards shows had very little, if anything, to do with quality and artistry. It's about the money, honey. Now, if you REALLY want to take a stand, you'll stop watching awards shows altogether...I couldn't do it, because I still need the fix...although, I will say, I did miss last year's Emmys entirely, and I felt very proud of myself afterwards.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences would like to clear up the miscommunication about what time-shifting means and reiterate our statement that no awards are to be dropped the evening of 61st Primetime Emmy Awards Telecast, Sunday September 20th 8/7c on CBS.

"We're just trying to edit down the standing and the hugging...and the walking down the aisle," said host and star of How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris of the categories affected including, Directing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Series, Directing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Writing for a Drama Series, Writing for a Miniseries or a Movie, Made for Television Movie, Miniseries, Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie and Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
None of the eight awards presentations or acceptance speeches were ever slated to be dropped from the show, despite misinformation concerning cuts circulating across news and various web channels. These awards will be presented in front of the entire Primetime Emmy audience of nominees and television professionals in full production conditions, while being tightened to eliminate the time award recipients walk down the aisles to the stage, up the steps and wait for their winning teammates to assemble on stage. These awards will air in the final half of the telecast, providing sufficient time to edit and highlight spontaneous remarks and actions with dramatic and comic impact.

Don Mischer, the show’s Executive Producer, says, “The writers' speeches are some of the best ones of the night. So we'll be able to highlight them more.”
Oh crap. I'm sorry you're quitting. Although I agree with every damn one of your reasons for quitting. It really is depressing though.

@) I missed last year's Emmy's too and I didn't care. I think I can quit that. I mean I can not look, but I'll still have to check the winners on line...

In defense of Oscar as far as the best picture goes generally although I don't think the best [or my favourite] win, it's in the top least.
UPDATE: On Aug. 12, the Emmys reversed itself and will air all awards live and abandon the time-shifting idea.
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