Glamour! Speeches! Envelopes! Yes, it’s award show season again. What better time for Newsday’s entertainment critics to weigh in on some burning questions about these glitzy events, starting with: Are these ceremonies still relevant in 2019?
VERNE GAY (Newsday’s TV critic): The awards shows matter because the awards matter. Awards remain the arbiters of artistic accomplishment, where otherwise commercial accomplishment (box office, ratings) would be the only benchmark. The awards shows are the framework within which they are presented, ipso facto, they matter. Of course, these shows can be insufferable — sometimes overstuffed, overlong turkeys. That’s part of their fun, part of their aggravation (in equal measure). Viewers still care — they’re just not chained to the shows like they once were.
RAFER GUZMAN (Newsday’s film critic): They do for the movies — particularly the Golden Globes but, even more so, the Oscars. Over many decades, both shows have built up a reputation for prestige and credibility, driven primarily by star-power and an aura of glamour. Despite downward trends in viewership, that reputation hasn’t gone away. The “Oscar bump,” in which ticket sales rise for winning movies, is still in effect, and studios know that movie posters look more attractive when dotted with awards. What’s more, the Oscar in particular bestows a knight-like honor upon the receiver, whose name will forevermore be preceded by the title “Oscar winner.”
GLENN GAMBOA (Newsday’s music critic): Now that streaming dominates music consumption, the Grammys arguably matter even more than they did in the past. With tens of thousands of albums released each year, the nominations offer artists a way to cut through the ever-crowded field, land much-needed attention and offer incentive for fans to sample some new releases since it doesn’t cost anything extra to stream them. The Grammys moved to capitalize on that this year, expanding the top categories from five nominees to eight.
BARBARA SCHULER (Newsday’s theater critic): Do the Tony Awards matter? Producers certainly think so, judging from the annual April crush when shows fight to open before the award cutoff date. For musicals, especially, the June telecast is one giant commercial, with each of the nominated shows getting a spot to showcase its best number right before the summer tourist crush. How that translates to ticket sales is tough to quantify, but psychologist Russell T. Warne of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, tried with a recent study that showed, among other things, best musical winners were 3.1 to 3.6 times more likely to stay open.
GUZMAN: The Academy Awards have gained and lost viewers dramatically over the years. Conventional wisdom has it that ceremonies featuring well-known best picture contenders tend to draw bigger ratings, though that doesn’t always hold true. The recent trend seems to be downward. In 2014, when Ellen DeGeneres hosted and “12 Years a Slave” won best picture, a healthy 43.7 million viewers tuned in, according to Deadline.com. Last year, when Jimmy Kimmel hosted and “The Shape of Water” won the top Oscar, viewership dropped to a worrisome 26.5 million.
The Golden Globes, by contrast, has always had a smaller viewership, but has slipped only slightly over the same period, beginning with 20 million viewers in 2014, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosted, and ending with 19 million in 2018, when Seth Meyers did the honors.
As for the Grammys and Emmys, they’ve also seen a downward trend in viewers. The music awards have dropped to 19.8 million viewers in 2018, down from 28.5 million in 2014, according to reports from TVByTheNumbers. Oddly, the new resurgence of television has coincided with a drop in Emmy Awards viewership: Only 10.1 million viewers watched the awards in 2018, compared with 15.6 million in 2014, according to trade magazine reports.
GUZMAN: The job of Oscar host is a thankless one, as this year’s lack of applicants proves. Because the Academy Awards ceremony is of grave importance to the industry, yet strives to entertain a general audience, the host is tasked with the impossible: Be funny yet respectful, stay loose but keep things moving, define the show but don’t hog the spotlight. A rare few, like Bob Hope and Billy Crystal, were natural-born court jesters who became repeat hosts. More often, though, charismatic personalities like David Letterman, Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock have come off as merely passable or downright stiff, paralyzed by the show’s potential land mines and glue-trap scripts.
On the other hand, at the freewheeling Golden Globes, where stakes are lower and the drinks tend to flow, hosting looks rather fun. Ricky Gervais insulted all of Hollywood as a four-time host and arguably hit the peak of his fame; Fey and Poehler hosted three times and earned plaudits for their feminist jabs and saucy attitude.
GAY: Unfortunately, very important. The host is the most easily promotable part of any show, and the reason many viewers tune in for the opening part of these programs. As gatekeepers, hosts play to the TV audience, also to the room, while a good one can ease tension or improve mood simply by getting people to laugh. But in recent years, hosts have been beset by what might be called a Goldilocks syndrome — too hot or too cold. DeGeneres was the best Oscar host since the Billy Crystal heyday. But she doesn’t want to do the Oscars or Emmys any longer. Lack of continuity among hosts has meant lack of consistency.
GAMBOA: The Grammys, especially in these ratings-obsessed days, are all about the performances — not the host. However, in 2012, when Manhasset’s LL Cool J led the awards show in prayer for Whitney Houston, who had died the night before, he was a shining example of how important a host can be in setting the tone for the evening.
SCHULER: Ratings for award shows have been on the decline for years, but the CBS telecast of the 2018 Tonys bucked the trend, with a slight uptick of 4 percent, from 6 million to 6.3 million viewers. Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban were the charming hosts of the show, but it’s highly unlikely that they can take credit for more viewers — though their salute to all the losers (accompanied by ensemble members from every Broadway musical) was fun. Over the years, Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris have been the most popular hosts, each getting the gig four times. James Corden hosted the highly-rated 2016 telecast, with a 33 percent increase in overnight ratings. But as good as he was, it was really all about the juggernaut known as “Hamilton.”
That said, I have a suggestion for a couple who could ensure a huge ratings increase for the 2019 show: Considering her impressive book tour and his Twitter-busting appearance on the last HamilDrops, the Tonys should go after Michelle and Barack Obama.
GUZMAN: Though awards are subjective, there have been a few instances where the groans from moviegoers were hard to ignore. “The Dark Knight” (2008), a film that treated superheroes with a new seriousness, didn’t make the cut for best picture, a snobbish oversight that the Oscars are still trying to live down. “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), a period rom-com starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes, won Best Picture over “Saving Private Ryan” and is often cited as a wispy film bolstered by a strong Oscar campaign (spearheaded by a then-powerful Harvey Weinstein). As for Paul Haggis’ race-relations drama “Crash” (2004), rightly or wrongly it has gone down as a quintessential example of the Oscars choosing a safe bet over a riskier one, “Brokeback Mountain,” for best picture.
GAY: You know you’ve had a good Emmys season (and awards ceremony) when there is no particularly egregious misstep. The 70th annual Emmys held in September, in fact, managed that not-inconsiderable feat. Sure, there were (and always are) quibbles with some winners. Should “The Americans” have won best drama? I think so, but “Game of Thrones” — the winner — was hardly a mistake. The winning seventh season was magnificent. To suggest otherwise is peevish. Same goes for each of the major categories. Thanks to rule (and eligibility) adjustments over the last several years, the Emmys (and voting body) have done a much better job of selecting the right nominees.
GAMBOA: In 2018, Kendrick Lamar’s album “Damn” dominated the charts, as well as cultural discussion. And though hip-hop albums traditionally do poorly in the prestigious “Album of the Year” category, many thought “Damn” had the power to change the trend. It didn’t. Bruno Mars’ likable, lightweight “24K Magic” won. Nevertheless, “Damn” went on to make history anyway, becoming the first hip-hop album to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
SCHULER: To this day I remember the shock on the faces of the “Avenue Q” cast when the show won the 2004 best musical Tony, upsetting what seemed to be a sure win for “Wicked.” No need to feel bad for either show, though. “Avenue Q” closed in 2009, but almost immediately moved to Off-Broadway where it will end its long run on April 28, 2019. “Wicked” is still going strong at the Gershwin Theatre — in 2018 it surpassed “A Chorus Line” to become the sixth-longest running show on Broadway.
Find out right here.