The Hollywood Film Awards Are Coming to TV, and We’ve Got Rude Questions

Can a television deal change the dynamic for a show that has always been a magnet for criticism?

From the moment that Dick Clark Productions bought a stake in the Hollywood Film Awards last year, it was inevitable that the annual kudo-fest would wind up on television.

Inevitable, but troubling.

And now that DCP and CBS have signed a multiyear deal, the awards show that has been a magnet for criticism since its launch in 1997 is apparently ready for primetime.

Also read: CBS Strikes Deal to Air Hollywood Film Awards

In October, before the show gave awards to Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, Jake Gyllenhaal and Harrison Ford, and included a performance from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, I sounded this cautionary note:

“At the Hollywood Film Awards, the stars show up because the media and the industry pay attention, and the media and the industry pay attention because the stars show up. And everybody tacitly agrees not to worry too much or think too hard.

“To be fair, this is hardly the only event during awards season where the selection process involves more negotiating than actual voting. And you could argue that they’re relatively harmless, and thoroughly typical of a town where exposure is the coin of the realm and publicity always trumps credibility.

“But with live-streaming the red carpet for the first time, and particularly with Dick Clark Productions buying a stake and no doubt thinking of a television future, things get more problematic – and the possibility looms for a nationally televised show that could make the Golden Globes look like a bastion of credibility.”

Also read: With Hollywood Film Awards, the Silly Season Has Arrived

So now we’ve got that nationally televised show, and I’ve got a few impertinent questions.

Will they change how they give out their awards?
Back in 1968, NBC tossed the Golden Globes off the air for six years after the Federal Communications Commission said that show misled viewers about how the winners were selected. (It turned out that votes were less important than promises to show up.)

The Globes subsequently began counting ballots more carefully – but the Hollywood Film Awards is one of a number of awards-season events where the honorees are chosen not by the votes of independent experts, but by negotiating between studios and the folks handing out the awards.

In the case of the HFA, the point man is Carlos de Abreu, who officially picks the winners with the  help of a non-specified “advisory team.” The process, say those who’ve been through it, involves promises to attend, and to secure a suitably impressive colleague to present the award.

Film festivals like the ones in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara aren’t entirely dissimiliar – they all want the bragging rights to Oscar nominees and winners, and they all choose honorees after studio lobbying.

But will a national television platform force a little more transparency into the process? Don’t count on it.

Will the press treat it any differently?
Much of the mainstream media simply views events like the Hollywood Film Awards as a way to get soundbites and show famous people all dressed up. But the entertainment-industry press has typically kept its distance from the HFA: This year, for instance, the only one of the four Hollywood trades to regular run announcements of honorees was the Hollywood Reporter, which has ownership ties to Dick Clark Productions and ran a series of “exclusives” about the show.

TheWrap, Variety and Deadline, on the other hand, typically stayed away from running the announcements – as did the L.A. Times, which in the past had been a sponsor.

Obviously, a television deal makes the HFA harder to ignore, but plenty of people at the trades are savvy enough to be uncomfortable paying closer attention.

Will the stars still speak freely?
The 2012 Hollywood Film Awards were by all accounts wildly entertaining – because in the middle of a faux awards show, a roast broke out.

Presenter Diablo Cody called the event a charade, while Seth Rogen asked, “Who voted for these things? I’m told someone named Carlos. I’m going with Carlos the Jackal.”

And honoree Quentin Tarantino pointed out that he was winning the screenplay-of-the-year award for a film that wasn’t even finished. “It’s kind of strange to get an award while you’re still in the editing room for a movie,” he said. “Now when my editor wants to cut down a long section of dialogue I can say, ‘You want to take a line out of my award-winning screenplay?’”

But it may be harder for honorees to openly scoff at the award they’re getting, or for presenters to admit that the whole thing is more than a little dicey, if they’re doing so on primetime network television.

Sadly, a Hollywood Film Awards where everyone is on their best behavior just won’t be any fun at all.

Will the television audience care about any of this?
Many in the industry have long speculated that the Golden Globes would lose their credibility if viewers ever got a look at exactly who is voting for those awards – that the sight of 80-or-so often elderly full and part-time journalists from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would be a “Wizard of Oz”-style “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” moment.

But the Globes are on TV and the stars seem delighted to get them, so viewers figure they’re legitimate. (But hey, the HFPA has been trying to clean things up lately.) And now the chance exists for the Hollywood Film Awards to pull off a similar piece of fuzzy math: TV + Stars = Credibility.

Or maybe de Abreu will realize that a network platform will carry with it the responsibility to create a legitimate show; to take achievement into account more than attendance; to honor movies that he and his advisory board have actually seen; to put on something other than an event where a presenter can use the word charade and the entire audience will chuckle knowingly.

Yeah, I know.

But one can dream, can’t one?