Art and Experience: People are eager to return to the old normal, and the fate of awards shows is not the top priority, but it is a concern. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences on April 28 addressed the question of eligibility in a time of coronavirus, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. did the same. But the question remains about the fate of ceremonies, no matter when the world opens up again.
In the history of major awards, no show was ever cancelled, but adjustments were occasionally needed. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy kudocasts are all alike; every crisis-stricken award show is stricken in its own way.
Nobody expects a dramatic change in the upcoming kudocasts. But as Monty Python reminded us, nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition either. Here are some past examples of how people adjusted.
The award for the most beleaguered ceremony goes to the 53rd annual Emmys. It was scheduled for Sept. 16, 2001, but the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences and CBS moved it to October, then shifted it to November.
On Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the 9/11 attacks, Variety’s package of stories included the news that the 53rd Emmys “have been postponed indefinitely.” The story added that Sept. 23 seemed a likely date.
Within a few days, Hollywood realized that even a week’s delay was not enough.
On Sept. 17, Michael Schneider reported that the date was moved to Oct. 7 and added, “CBS execs and Academy leaders must now decide whether the telecast will serve as a regular award show, a tribute, a fundraiser or all of the above.”
A few days before the new target date, ATAS took out an ad in Variety and promised a secure environment and a “lower-key tone.”
However, on Oct. 8, Variety chronicled Sunday’s last-minute change.
At 9:30 a.m. on the morning Oct. 7, host Ellen DeGeneres and the production team were rehearsing when they got word that the U.S. and the U.K. “had started military action in Afghanistan … by noon, it was official: The Emmys had been postponed again. But this time, probably for good.”
Ten days later, Schneider reported the Emmys would take place Nov. 4, with Gary Smith to produce, after Don Mischer dropped out. In her Nov. 4 opening, DeGeneres jokingly welcomed guests to “the 53rd, 54th and 55th Emmy Awards.” A Variety review said the show was “less glitzy and more sober, in keeping with the gravity of the times.”
The 65th annual Golden Globes were held Jan. 15, 2008, as scheduled — but with no nominees or celeb presenters.
During the Writers Guild strike (Nov. 5, 2007-Feb. 12, 2008), WGA gave waivers for the scripted SAG Awards and Indie Spirit Awards, but in mid-December announced no waivers for the Golden Globes or Oscars.
However, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Prods. persevered and continued talks with WGA and NBC. When the Screen Actors Guild announced solidarity with WGA, it was clear there would be no celebs present.
On Jan. 8, 2008, a week before the show, Cynthia Littleton reported that the kudos had been downscaled to an hourlong news conference at the Beverly Hilton, “to be covered live by NBC News, with only journos in attendance — and most likely with WGA pickets outside.”
Variety calculated the financial loss, including the ripple effect (parties, hotels, airfare, etc.) at $80 million.
All the parties continued to negotiate. Two days before the event, talks collapsed but the WGA decided not to picket.
The HFPA staged the news conference, with winners announced by TV entertainment journalists. NBC opted not to air it; instead, the 35-minute show aired on a number of stations, including E! and TV Guide Network.
In a Jan. 16 post-mortem, Variety reported that the exterior of the Bev Hilton was quiet, with no red carpet and no crowds. However, “Inside the Ballroom, the joint was jumping, in an off-kilter way.” There were about 500 attendees, including 55 TV crews, 40 still photographers and numerous journalists who sat at tables with their laptops. The arrival of E! newswoman Mary Hart “was the celebrity high point of the evening.”
The Academy Awards scaled down their ceremonies during World War II, and postponed the event three times: in 1938, 1968 and 1981.
The first delay occurred for the 10th annual Academy Awards, scheduled for March 3, 1938. But rains in Los Angeles were so heavy that flood waters rose to four feet at Paramount studios, and “many films stars and Academy members were marooned in isolated homes by the storm which swept Los Angeles,” according to Variety that morning.
Even after the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences didn’t cancel any rites. The 14th Academy Awards took place on Feb. 26, 1942. The following day, Variety reported “it was staged under wraps and a great part of its sartorial glamor was missing.” And there was no dancing, a change from earlier ceremonies.
Note: No other major kudos were affected by WWII, since the Globes started in 1943 as a low-key event, and other major awards began later, such as the Tonys (1947), BAFTAs (1949), Grammys (1959) and Cesar Awards (1976).
Other Oscars during the war were similarly modest.
But for those complaining politics should not be a part of kudosfests, it’s worth remembering that at the March 4, 1943, rites, Lowell Mellett (chief of Bureau of Motion Pictures, Office of War Information) talked for 10 minutes, followed by California Gov. Earl Warren, who spoke for another 10 minutes. Presenters read messages of gratitude from President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and Lydia Kislova of the USSR Society of Cultural Relations.
The show scheduled for April 8, 1968, was postponed for two days after the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. And for the first and only time, the Governors Ball was cancelled.
Variety on April 8, 1968, noted that the world was mourning. “No death of a private citizen in the history of the U.S. ever had an effect” on the world, including showbiz, as King’s death.
When the show aired April 10, AMPAS president Gregory Peck opened with a tribute to King, and Bob Hope (in his 14th time as emcee) closed with bigotry must be eliminated: “It is a challenge that each of us must and will meet.”
Thirteen years later, the Oscarcast scheduled for March 30, 1981, was delayed after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.
According to Variety on March 31, Oscars had planned a salute to Reagan, including his taped remarks. But the shooting caused a 24-hour delay.
The day after the ceremony, April 1, AMPAS prez Fay Kanin told Variety that she, producer Norman Jewison and their teams “had to move all these mountains” to postpone, including reconfirmation of nominees and presenters, contacting agents, talent and film producers all over the country, not to mention negotiations with ABC, the venue and its staff.
Kanin’s litany shows the scrambling that occurs when an awards show changes. Nearly 30 years later by Al Schwartz, longtime producer of the Globes for Dick Clark, summed up his team’s attitude. On the evening of the masterplanned-in-48-hours Golden Globes, he told Variety, “It’s like anything in Hollywood: You have no time to get things done, but somehow you do it.”
Over the years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has made tweaks to eligibility requirements. This year — because of the coronavirus pandemic — demanded a major action.
On April 28, Variety reported that the Academy’s the board of governors approved a temporary hold on the requirement that a film needs a seven-day theatrical run in a commercial theater in Los Angeles County to qualify for the Oscars.
Instead, films will be allowed to be released digitally without playing in theaters. However, that doesn’t mean any movie premiering on a streaming service is eligible for Oscar gold. To be considered, the streamed film must have already had a planned theatrical release. The film must also be made available on the Academy Screening Room member-only streaming site within 60 days of the film’s streaming or VOD release.
Once movie theaters are allowed to re-open, the seven-day window will once again be required for eligibility. Pics that have already streamed will not have to then be released in theaters. When theaters re-open, the Academy will also expand the number of qualifying theaters beyond Los Angeles County to include venues in New York City, the Bay Area, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta.
In the past few years, the AMPAS board and members debated streaming services including Netflix and Amazon. Some protested that a theatrical release of a few weeks was a cheat. Others countered that studios for decades have been using an “Oscar-qualifying engagement” to become eligible.
One example was “The Deer Hunter,” the eventual best-picture winner, which had a two-week run in December 1978.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. on March 26 announced that it has loosened eligibility requirements and “will continue to assess the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic,” saying it “may extend these suspensions of the Golden Globe award rules.” The organization this past week extended the new rules.