It wasn’t that long ago that live telecasts like major league sporting events and star-studded awards shows were considered the savior of networks struggling to maintain relevancy in a streaming age.
And while streamers have taken their lumps lately — and sports is indeed keeping the lights on in linear — the age of blockbuster awards shows appears to be over. Which would mean it’s perhaps an inopportune time for the ceremonies out there looking for a new home or, in the case of the Golden Globes, looking to return, period.
Late last month, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. agreed to let Eldridge Industries, run by Todd Boehly, purchase the Golden Globes and make that part of the HFPA a for-profit enterprise. Eldridge has also taken control of Dick Clark Prods., the company that produces the Globes, which means Boehly has a vested interest in getting the show back on NBC.
NBC took a Globes breather in 2022 after new allegations of questionable financial practices inside the small, insular organization — as well as its paltry record of diversity and representation — turned the already controversial HFPA into more of a pariah. The org has spent more than a year in reform mode, to the point that NBC appears ready to bring the show back in 2023.
NBC and the HFPA remain in talks to make it official, but insiders say much of the heavy negotiating is done, and now it comes down to remaining smaller issues. It’s unclear whether NBC will pay the whopping $60 million license fee that was renegotiated in 2018, when networks were particularly desperate to hold on to live events. But the real question mark revolves around the willingness of stars to show up for the event. No A-list commitment translates to no interest from NBC.
The Globes, at least, has a theoretical broadcast home to return to. The Screen Actors Guild Awards will find itself homeless in 2023, as longtime partner TNT (and its sister network TBS) continue to downsize in the wake of the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. As the T-Nets shed assets, the SAG Awards parted ways with the cabler company after 25 years.
SAG-AFTRA has employed power attorney Ken Ziffren to find a new home for the telecast, which is now being shopped to outlets. But so far, insiders say the price tag is steep, as are the costs of producing the show. With budgets tightening as the economy grows shaky, and the appetite for awards shows becoming even less apparent, it’s unlikely any of the major nets has any money to spare to bid very high.
“There’s no win,” says one network exec. “The SAG Awards at its best is not going to move anyone’s needle.”
Also on the market: The Film Independent Spirit Awards, which has aired for years on IFC. Of course, IFC hasn’t been the Independent Film Channel in nearly a decade, which made the ceremony a bit out of place on a network now focused on quirky comedies and sitcom reruns. With IFC now out of the picture, it’s unclear where — or if — the Indie Spirits might land, but it may bump into the same limitations as the SAG Awards.
Most awards shows have faced steep ratings declines in recent years, tempering the excitement for these telecasts. The 2022 SAG Awards averaged 1.8 million viewers, which was up from its pre-taped virtual telecast the year before, but still below pre-COVID levels. This year’s Spirit Awards, which moved from its usual day-before-Oscars home to three weeks beforehand in a bid to attract more viewers, didn’t appear to do so.
In 2021, Amazon made headlines by grabbing the rights to the Academy of Country Music Awards after CBS opted not to renew its deal with the telecast. Meanwhile, the Daytime Emmys only recently returned to broadcast TV, on CBS, after a decade without a major broadcast partner. (Another one-time powerhouse TV franchise, the Miss America pageant, wound up on Peacock for its most recent edition.)
Those aren’t the only awards shows facing stiff headwinds. Earlier this month, the Television Critics Assn. revealed the winners of the TCA Awards by press release, rather than in a ceremony, for the third straight year due to the pandemic. The Television Critics Assn. had planned to return to an in-person summer press tour this year, which would have included an in-person TCA Awards hosted by “Abbott Elementary” stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Janelle James, and Lisa Ann Walter. But when networks dropped out of the tour over ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the TCA press tour was forced to go virtual again — and scrap a TCA Awards event. The TCA hopes to finally go back in person in January, with an eye toward finally bringing back the awards in 2023.
Meanwhile, the high-profile controversy surrounding the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has also led to scrutiny of other, even smaller awards-based organizations. That includes the Critics Choice Association — which was also subject to an L.A. Times profile that said “the nonprofit organization has been dogged by some of the same issues, including questions over its credibility, governance and potential conflicts of interest.” More recently, the Hollywood Critics Association is also dealing with internal strife.
Mostly made up of bloggers and regional writers, the HCA, formerly the Los Angeles Online Film Critics Society, has attempted to enter the oversaturated market for film and TV accolades. The group attracted a bevy of A-list talent for its two-night HCA TV Awards event at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 14, dividing its live-streamed ceremony into two nights, awarding broadcast and cable on one and streaming on the other.
A few days after HCA’s awards this month, a fiery exchange erupted on the org’s private Facebook page. One member, a California-based writer, questioned the allocation of entry fees and membership dues, as well as how many members actually voted on the awards — concerns that other current and former members had privately asked as well. The writer, who is no longer a member, posted several allegations on Twitter (arguing that the HCA “didn’t have their shit together”), leading to a cease and desist notice from the org’s attorney.
According to the HCA, approximately 80 members (out of 146) voted in the HCA TV Awards, and “emails were sent to the bulk of membership as shown in the previously forwarded email. The only people who didn’t get ballots are those members who opted out of voting prior to ballots being sent out.” As for questions of whether HCA leadership influenced the winners, org head Scott Menzel tells Variety that he brought in “a third party person to oversee voting this year. The person hired sent out all ballots and was in charge of handling the tallying of all of the results. Leadership has zero control over who votes and for what they vote for.” The HCA also sent an FAQ to its members, noting that “entry fees are used to help cover and improve the HCA TV Awards ceremonies’ expenses, including the venue’s cost, show production, red carpet production, the photographers, videographers, editors, graphic designers, security, awards statues, food, alcohol, programs, public relations, etc.”
(Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)