Saturday, December 9, 2023

With Strikes Settled, Hollywood Dives Into An Uncertain Awards Season

Must read

Actor and writer strikes that hobbled Hollywood studios for half of 2023 left disarray in many corners of the business, none more so than that always odd annual orgy of self-congratulation known as awards season.

Normally, the season would be kicking into at least medium gear right about now. The first critics “best of” lists would soon be arriving, and Q&As, screenings, red carpet events, precursor film festivals, late-night talk-show appearances, and much else would be popping up in Los Angeles, New York, London and parts in between.

Not this year. Oh, people are definitely jumping into the publicity machine’s maw now that union restrictions on promotion are gone ahead of an expected final ratification by SAG-AFTRA members. Puck pointed to Bradley Cooper, who wrote, directed and stars in Maestro, a Netflix-backed biopic of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

Within seeming hours of the SAG-AFTRA strike settlement, Cooper joined a CBS Sunday Morning interview with Bernstein family members, who’ve already pushed back on complaints of possible anti-Semitism about Cooper’s prosthetic nose and Gentile background in portraying the Jewish classical music star.

Cooper wasn’t about to miss a high-profile media opportunity to both blunt those complaints and further promote his latest do-everything project. But his alacrity in joining the interview is hardly unusual. There’s definitely little time to waste for those projects hoping to grab some glory and gold statues over the next few months.

Among the questions facing the industry: how much will the traditional studios spend on awards pushes this year, given their need to dramatically curtail costs and make profits on their streaming operations? How long will deep-pocketed Netflix, Amazon
and Apple
continue to rely on awards as a quality signifier as they build out their streaming and other ventures? The many questions set this awards season up for a lot of shifts and changes.

The most strike-related dislocation hit the Emmys, the biggest night in television. Normally held in the 10 days or so of September, the strike pushed the Primetime Awards all the way to Jan. 15, in the middle of what’s mostly movie awards.

Even amid the strikes, though, Emmy voting continued, with final-round results closed back in the summer. How those long-ago votes will manifest when released six months later will be its own sort of drama. Will any viewers notice or care, given the subdued process so far?

At least Fox, which carries the Emmys this year, has lined up someone from its stable of talent, reportedly Anthony Anderson, to actually host the event, which counts as some kind of victory.

The Golden Globes, once an unlikely but relatively accurate predictor of Oscar gold, finally locked down a new broadcast partner after years of scandal, boycotts, blackouts and restructuring. After multiple pitches and big cuts to its formerly hefty licensing fee, the Globes awards show will appear Jan. 7 on a new network, CBS, and on its streaming service, Paramount

Most important in that last line is the word “broadcast;” the show’s remaining audience is almost certainly heavily concentrated among the older viewers that are CBS’s core audience, rather than on streaming.

The broadcast date makes for pretty much “normal” timing for what’s traditionally been the season’s first big awards ‘cast. This year, it will be fascinating to see where the Globes sit in the pantheon of awards strategists’ playbooks, after being blacked out for a year in 2022 and boycotted by publicists, thanks to operations and representation scandals when the organization was known as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Last year’s broadcast on former long-term partner NBC drew record-low ratings, just 6.3 million people, according to Nielsen. For comparison, the 2020 broadcast, held two months before lockdown, drew 18.3 million subscribers.

The Golden Globes LLC is now controlled by Penske Media, as is the Globes’ production company, Dick Clark Productions, as is a long string of trade publications that depend on awards advertising: Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, IndieWire, Gold Derby, even celebrity-focused Hollywood Life (disclosure – In past lives, I’ve written for three of those publications).

Will that vertical integration force statue-starved studios to splash even more cash than usual on Penske properties to jump start this crazy awards season? Will publicists continue to hold out their stars, or decide it’s time to forgive and forget?

For all the uncertainty, the Globes at least still have a perch where millions could theoretically watch. It could have gone the way of the Penske-owned Billboard Music Awards, which ran Sunday night on the company’s own website to, ahem, muted notice (Taylor Swift won Top Artist and nine other awards, if you were wondering; Morgan Wallen took home 11 more).

Now to find someone to host the Globes, which may not be a small task, given the show, the timing and the industry’s battered condition. Also, will a lengthy strike at the Beverly Hills Hilton and other hotels keep stars from crossing picket lines?

Other awards shows have had their own challenges, such as the Critics Choice Movie Awards, left scrambling for sponsors as it tries to build a more credible early-season alternative to the Globes among media-voted awards shows.

Of course, there is one other set of considerations: what will Academy, guild and other awards voters actually get to vote on? Some big movies set for the fall were pushed off, and the theatrical exhibition business remains a staggering shadow of itself. The year’s two biggest movies by box office have been Barbie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie, with only Barbie likely to attract much Oscar love.

Barbie is definitely a feel-good contender, though it will face serious challengers for Best Picture such as Barbenheimercohort Oppenheimer from director Christopher Nolan, Maestro, Martin Scosese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, and celebrated smaller projects such as Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction, Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers, Todd Haynes’ May December, and Ava DuVernay’s Origin.

Disney’s Pixar, usually a reliable source of Oscar animation and music love, has had underwhelming responses to its latest projects. The same can be said for films from Marvel, though mostly those MCU projects get noticed in visual effects and other technical categories.

As Hollywood pulls itself back together, it could be the most unique awards season in decades. The uncertain future of awards shows, once a broadcast stalwart, also are a result of a business trying to figure out what it will look like when things finally settle down again.

Latest article