Under a cloud, the Golden Globes went dark. How the awards came back from the brink
Twenty months after NBC announced that it was pulling the Golden Globe Awards off the air amid controversy, the show long billed as “Hollywood’s Party of the Year” is set to return to the airwaves Tuesday night.
Stars will once again twirl before the cameras on the red carpet at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Champagne will flow. Host Jerrod Carmichael will crack jokes, a few no doubt at the expense of the often-mocked awards themselves.
But in the wake of a devastating public-relations crisis that tarnished the 80-year-old show and jeopardized its very existence, it remains to be seen just how festive the mood at this year’s Globes will be — and how many viewers will tune in to watch.
For the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. — the small, improbably powerful group of international journalists that hands out the awards — it has been a long and bumpy journey since a 2021 Times investigation exposed a lack of diversity in the organization’s membership and raised concerns about its ethics and financial practices.
Despite a series of sweeping reforms that have remade the HFPA inside and out, some in Hollywood still harbor misgivings about the organization. Meanwhile, viewership for awards shows in general has continued to decline, further threatening the Globes’ viability.
Speaking with The Times last month, as plans for the show were coming together, billionaire investor Todd Boehly, who now serves as interim chief executive of the HFPA, acknowledged the uncertainty.
“I have nightmares where it doesn’t work too,” Boehly said. “You can’t convince all the people all the time of anything. I appreciate that there’s skepticism. But I would say, ‘Come and check it out and see for yourself.’
“We don’t expect to win over 100% of the people — that would be unrealistic. But we also expect that, over time, we’re going to be able to show that this is an evolved, professional organization that understands what its role is and doesn’t overstep its bounds in any way, shape or form.”
Faced with an industry-wide shunning that cut off its lifeblood of star power, the 96-member organization added six Black journalists last year — it previously had none — and brought in 103 nonmember international voters in a further bid to diversify its ranks. The HFPA has also banned gifts, instituted a hotline for reporting misconduct and quietly ejected a handful of members whom they have accused of violating its standards.
Industry critics long complained that the association exerted outsize influence in the awards ecosystem and that its members behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally at exclusive HFPA news conferences, too often snubbing talent of color.
Over months of meetings between the HFPA and talent publicists — more than 100 of whom had banded together to boycott the organization after the Times investigation — relations have slowly thawed.
After 20 months of chaos and uncertainty, Todd Boehly says he understands the criticism and that the group behind the Golden Globes is evolving.
“I am optimistic they will continue to work and honor the trust and support the industry is showing by supporting this year’s Globes,” said talent publicist Kelly Bush Novak, chief executive and founder of ID Public Relations, who had helped spearhead the boycott. “We have to acknowledge the past so that history never repeats itself, but focus on manifesting a future that is productive, safe, equitable and inclusive, a future that reflects our values as an industry. [The HFPA] assure us this is just the beginning of their commitment to reform. We will hold them to account.”
Under Boehly, who took over the group in October 2021, the HFPA is awaiting approval from California’s attorney general on a plan to transform the nonprofit association into a for-profit venture. Members of the newly reconstituted Golden Globes Assn. will earn $75,000 annually for five years, according to a copy of the employment contract reviewed by The Times, with duties to include watching films and TV shows and voting on them for Globes consideration. The shift has raised questions among critics that it will essentially turn member employees into paid voters.
The move, Boehly told The Times, takes away members’ reliance on news conferences, removing “the kind of conflicts of interest that were embedded in the organization that might have created the opportunity to be swayed by things other than just being authentic and having real integrity.”
At the same time, Boehly’s stewardship of the group raises new potential conflicts of interest. Along with Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Globes telecast, and the Beverly Hilton, the awards banquet’s traditional venue, Boehly also owns stakes in the trade magazines Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, which rely on Globes-related advertising, as well as the indie film distributor A24, whose movies, including “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” earned 10 Globes nominations this year.
Still, many publicists say their deepest concerns about the HFPA have been largely allayed.
“I was supportive of giving these folks another chance and seeing where it went,” said Simon Halls, a founder and partner at Slate PR. “I was really impressed with some of the efforts they all made to rectify some of the past issues. Is it 100%? No. But they’ve made great strides.”
“I remain hopeful and optimistic and I’m proud of the collective work that has been done by so many people,” said Cindi Berger, chairman at Rogers & Cowan PMK and another of those who had withheld clients from the HFPA.
Others, however, are taking a wait-and-see approach.
One publicist, who acknowledged that the organization has made steps in the right direction, said they will continue to monitor how things progress under Boehly’s plan and to what degree the group will be able to bolster its professionalism and jettison members with questionable journalistic credibility.
Dropped by NBC, shunned by Hollywood and hampered by COVID-19, this year’s Golden Globes ceremony was a small, private and somber affair.
“The Globes are a marketing tool — that is the value of the Golden Globes as a brand,” said the publicist, who requested anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing process. “That is separate from the HFPA. What Todd is trying to do is separate the two. That’s not easy.”
Even as questions about the HFPA persist, Hollywood continues to see value in the Globes themselves, particularly at a time when a number of adult-oriented awards hopefuls like “Empire of Light” and “Babylon” have been struggling at the box office.
“The public is who the studios want to reach with these shows, which makes the Globes, with a three-hour NBC television slot, relevant — at least for now,” says a veteran awards consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the awards candidly.
In years past, studios timed the theatrical expansion of their awards season hopefuls to the weekend after the Globes in an effort to capitalize on the attention. Sam Mendes’ war film “1917” went wide into 3,400 theaters a few days after it won the Globes’ best picture drama prize in 2020, taking in a robust $37 million.
A Times investigation finds that the nonprofit HFPA regularly issues substantial payments to its members in ways that some experts say could skirt IRS guidelines.
In the dismal post-pandemic exhibition landscape, however, prospects for any Globes boost this year are negligible. Three best picture Oscar contenders — “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once” and “Elvis” — debuted early in 2022. Others, like Steven Spielberg’s memory piece “The Fabelmans,” Todd Field’s chilly drama “Tár” and Martin McDonagh’s friendship feud “The Banshees of Inisherin,” have struggled to find an audience.
“Avatar: The Way of Water,” meanwhile, has passed $1.5 billion in global box office and doesn’t need much help from any awards group, although it did earn Globes nominations for best picture drama and director James Cameron.
Ratings challenges could further erode the Globes’ effect. The show, which in pre-pandemic times reliably drew an audience of around 18 million annually, saw its viewership plummet to just 6.9 million in 2021. This year, the telecast has been bumped from its traditional Sunday night time slot to Tuesday to make room for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” (The network made a similar move with September’s Emmy Awards, which aired on a Monday.)
In bringing the Globes back, NBC, which has aired the show since 1996, committed to just a one-year trial. Beyond that, even as Boehly eyes a potential expansion of the Globes brand to international markets, the future of the awards — whether on NBC, another TV network or a streaming platform — remains uncertain.
For the moment, Boehly says, the HFPA is simply trying to safeguard its continued existence.
“Right now, we are laser focused on making the 80th [telecast] everything we hope it is,” said Boehly. “I figure, if we get nominees to come participate and have fun, then we feel like we can take a deep breath for a moment. And then we’ll think about what’s next.”
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