Hollywood's awards season locomotive was derailed Monday when NBC pulled the plug on its highly rated Golden Globes, choosing not to broadcast on Sunday what promised to be a virtually celebrity-free ceremony.
The scrapped program would be the first awards show to fall victim to the Writers Guild of America strike, and February's Academy Awards also could be in jeopardy.
Although NBC cobbled together a series of Golden Globes-related "news" programs to fill the slot -- including a scaled-down news conference to announce the winners -- the decision sent shock waves through the entertainment business, which had been waiting for weeks to see whether a compromise could be reached among the WGA, the network and Globes producer Dick Clark Productions to allow the show to proceed.
But the WGA, as it has with almost all television shows and feature films, refused to allow its writers to work on the Globes and promised to picket the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the usually star-stuffed awards dinner is held.
The leadership of the Screen Actors Guild advised its members to honor the WGA pickets, meaning Globe nominees such as George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie would be making other weekend plans.
Hours after the awards banquet was canceled, the organizers of many of the evening's swankiest Golden Globes parties -- some of which cost $150,000 and more to put on -- said they were canceling their celebrations too.
An NBC e-mail sent to movie studios called for an awards news conference, to be carried by NBC News, along with separate programs devoted to film clips, interviews and Golden Globe parties. But even that bare-bones coverage compromise was greeted coolly by the WGA. The union said it appeared to be a ruse to get around the pickets, which the guild said might remain in place.
"If they do an awards show, no matter what they call it, and it's produced by a struck company, we will picket," said Jeff Hermanson, assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, West. The WGA believes that even though NBC News is listed as the presenter of the Globes broadcasts, the coverage is being covertly coordinated by Dick Clark Productions.
A spokesman for the production company said the WGA was mistaken. "We have absolutely no involvement in the news conference," Terry Fahn said. Because the rest of the programming for the broadcast had not been finalized, Fahn could not comment further. NBC declined to comment.
Jorge Camara, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which bestows the Globes, said in a statement, "We are all very disappointed that our traditional awards ceremony will not take place this year and that millions of viewers worldwide will be deprived of seeing many of their favorite stars celebrating 2007's outstanding achievements in motion pictures and television."
It nevertheless remained unclear whether any of the A-list talent nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. would actually show up for the ceremony in its redacted form. The head of publicity at one major studio said he would not risk humiliating his actors -- not to mention spending tens of thousands of dollars on travel and stylists -- by bringing them to some unglamorous meeting room to find out they had lost. In a crowded ballroom, at least, there's somewhere to hide.
Organizers of the 80th annual Academy Awards, scheduled for Feb. 24, said they remained hopeful they could still produce a show as good as any of the preceding Oscars.
"We really think we can work out some sort of agreement that will allow us to do a traditional Academy Awards broadcast," said Bruce Davis, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' executive director. "We will not be resorting to the kind of expedients that the Golden Globes are resorting to. We can do the kind of show the public expects of us."
The academy has yet to ask the WGA for a waiver for Oscar host Jon Stewart and his writing staff, but the WGA already has denied an Oscar request to use film clips without paying customary union residual fees.
Academy officials are hopeful that their membership -- thousands of prominent filmmakers representing all of Hollywood's top unions, who value the importance of an Oscar -- can help it reach a compromise with the WGA. But the WGA is on strike against Oscar broadcaster ABC, among other companies and networks, and the ceremony brings ABC tens of millions in profit.
NBC, which carried the Golden Globes in their infancy, resumed its broadcast of the awards ceremony 12 years ago. The network built the show into a cash cow, routinely pulling in more than 20 million viewers. NBC in recent years has made $10 million to $15 million on its Globes telecast, according to two people close to the network.
There are at least three reasons for NBC to treat the show as a news event. First, the news division doesn't have to pay to use clips from movies and TV shows. Second, the network isn't on the hook for the $6-million licensing fee it would pay the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Dick Clark Productions for the regular awards show. Finally, the network doesn't have to use WGA writers to provide material.
But the arrangement did not please rival television news organizations, which said privately they were irked that they would be barred from covering the event. (Print reporters will apparently be allowed in, but NBC is the only TV network that will be permitted to cover it.)
Advertisers were uncertain about the revised show's prospects as well.
"Is there going to be a red carpet, or will it just be an area rug?" said Shari Anne Brill, director of programming for ad-buying firm Carat, whose clients include Revlon, Alberto Culver and Papa John's Pizza.
"This is not what viewers have come to expect -- the glam and the glitz and the spontaneity of the Golden Globes," Brill said. But she said she understood why NBC was determined to put on some version of the show. "This way, NBC can keep the ad dollars. But I can't imagine that they will take in the same amount that they had planned if this had been a regular telecast."
Another advertising buyer offered a similar view.
"A big part of the appeal of this show is having the glitz and glamour of Hollywood right there in your living room," said Brad Adgate, research director for Horizon Media, which represents such clients as Ace Hardware, Geico and Mutual of Omaha. "People want to see who's wearing what and who George Clooney's talking to. The casualness and the party atmosphere of the Golden Globes has long been its hallmark. I don't know if a press conference is something that viewers will go for. It works for a presidential address, but this is supposed to be a Hollywood awards show."
"I think it's a terrible shame for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.," he said. "This is a group that's completely caught in the middle of a situation that has nothing to do with them. It's a terrible shame that they're somehow being made to bear the brunt of it. They support a lot of challenging, difficult movies. And that's a great thing."
Also on Monday, United Artists Films became the first movie company to sign a deal with the Writers Guild of America, enabling the start-up outfit controlled by Tom Cruise and his longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner, to hire union writers during the continuing strike.
Although details of the independent agreement were not released, it was believed to be similar to the deal the guild recently struck with late-night TV host David Letterman's production company, Worldwide Pants Inc. Both agreements contain provisions accepting proposals that the union put forth in its negotiations with the major studios, including in the key area of Internet residuals.
Times staff writers Rachel Abramowitz, Claudia Eller and Matea Gold contributed to this report.