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Golden Globes on the Hot Seat: Can Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Save the Day?

It’ll be a virtual ceremony in which a group of dubious credibility gives awards to movies people haven’t seen

AWARDS BEAT

There has never been a year in which the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is under more pressure to answer a crucial question: Why should we care about the Golden Globes?

After all, this year’s ceremony, which takes place on Sunday on NBC, is all of these things:

• A live event whose participants will mostly be in their homes.

• An awards show that’ll give movie awards to films that virtually nobody has seen in theaters, and most people haven’t seen at all.

• A party at which people can’t mingle or, really, party.

• And a showcase for the tastes of a group of voters whose credibility and corruptibility are once again issues.

That’s not exactly a recipe for must-see viewing, but it’s the complicated situation in which the HFPA finds itself this year, partly of its own making and partly through circumstances out of its control.

Let’s start with the part that’s of the group’s own making. For years, the industry has accommodated the Globes because they have a major-network TV deal and people watch the show — but the closer you look, the less credible they seem, even when they give their awards to deserving winners.

Recent stories in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times didn’t exactly break new ground — TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman, for one, wrote about this decades ago — but they did reinforce the curious business practices of this group of 87 foreign journalists whose annual awards show gives them the clout to be wined and dined and courted by film and TV studios. And they prompted the organization to vow to find some Black members, of which they currently have none.

The voters they do have, meanwhile, didn’t help themselves with this year’s nominations. They overlooked films from Black directors in the best-picture categories and gave a pair of major nominations to Sia’s “Music,” a movie that sits at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and caused its director to apologize for the way it depicts a character with autism.

For years, studios have taken a “What, me worry?” attitude toward the Globes because stars show up and the show gets good ratings at a crucial time during awards season, and viewers are a lot more interested in who’s getting drunk at Table 2 than who’s voting for these awards. Even with the new scrutiny on the HFPA this week, that would likely be the case this year as well … except that nobody you know will get drunk at Table 2, because the few tables in the Beverly Hilton and the Rainbow Room will be small, socially distanced and occupied by a limited number of frontline, essential and food-bank workers.

This, after all, is a year in which the Golden Globes show itself will take place largely virtually — which, as we’ve seen, is not the best way to put on an awards show, even when it’s the only way. Sure, the HFPA has taken the step of asking its hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, to appear live on stages in Beverly Hills and New York, and it’s asked many of its presenters to do so as well – but the nominees and the winners will be watching from home, which will no doubt lead to more of those speeches that run through “Can you hear me?” and “Am I on?” before they get to “Thank you so much!”

For a show that has prided itself (and sold itself) on being Hollywood’s biggest party, taking away those jugs of liquor on every table inside the Beverly Hilton, and taking away the people sitting at those tables, is a problem. It’ll be a bunch of celebs sitting at home watching the show on their computers for a bunch more people sitting at home watching on their TV sets. You can try to make that Hollywood’s biggest party — and there’s no question Tina and Amy will try very, very hard – but we all know that Hollywood’s big parties are on hold for a while longer.

And then on top of that, there’s apt to be less rooting interest in the competing films than ever before. After a year in which theatrical films were completely missing in action, it’s hard to get excited about giving film awards to movies that qualified via streaming or during the extended eligibility period. “Nomadland” may have been an awards front runner since September to people who are in this game, but it’s a brand new release for most of the folks who will watch the Globes. Should they be interested in its fate on Sunday? Or the fate of, say, “Mank,” or another brand-new release like “The Father?”

The Globes do have a few things going for them, Tina ‘n’ Amy foremost among them. The hosts will have to work out that cross-country repartée, which probably won’t be easy, but they may be smart and quick and self-aware enough to pull it off, at least to some degree — and if not, to go down in flames in a relatively entertaining way.

And then there are the TV categories. If movies have been struggling to find any kind of foothold during the pandemic, television has been a lifeline for lots of people. And maybe those people will tune in not to see if Carey Mulligan can beat Frances McDormand, but to see if “The Crown” can beat “The Mandalorian,” if “Ted Lasso” can top “Schitt’s Creek” and if “The Queen’s Gambit” can triumph over “Small Axe.”

The television side of the Globes, with 11 categories to 14 for film, usually feels like an afterthought, since it doesn’t fit the timeline of the main TV awards, the Emmys. But while you can’t expect TV to be the Globes’ savior this year, it may give some people a little more reason to care.

And in a year in which giving people a reason to care is the Globes’ biggest and toughest task, every little bit helps.