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Upcoming Awards Season Geared for Hype
November 1, 2015  | By David Hinckley

The fresh rollout of star hosts for the Oscar, Golden Globes and People’s Choice awards suggests that once again, someone’s thinking that mere awards winners may not be enough to sell these shows.

Let’s stress that no one will be holding bake sales to prop up the big awards shows. The major ones still draw huge audiences by current TV standards, and ABC is charging up to $2.2 million for 30-second spots on the Feb. 28 Academy Awards telecast. That’s moving toward Super Bowl turf.

Still, most of the major awards shows have seen a gradual erosion of viewers over the last few years, and not just because awards shows in general have multiplied like fruit flies. The bigger reason is that their product keeps getting diluted.

Awards shows skim the cream of the previous year in movies, TV, music, Baby Lips packaging, whatever. If you’re a fan, even a casual fan, an awards show provides a one-stop for identifying the good stuff, with the added bonus that experts will then designate the absolute best.

Once upon a time, almost everyone who went to the movies or watched TV was generally familiar with the field. Movies were, as a rule, designed for broad appeal. There were a finite number of TV shows on three broadcast TV networks.

No more.

Most of the big movies today are made for niche audiences, albeit large niche audiences, like teenage boys who love superheroes or young adults who love raunchy sex jokes.

As for TV, FX President John Landgraf estimated this summer that the past season produced some 400 scripted TV series, which means that once you add in unscripted shows, you’ve got way more TV than anyone could possibly absorb or even be aware of.

It’s not that no one is watching, or listening. It’s just that fans are increasingly partitioned off in their own silos, and don’t pay enough attention to most other shows so they care whether Game of Thrones beats Downton Abbey as best drama of the year.

That’s a concern if you run an awards show, where that sort of friendly competition has always been a significant component.

Which in turn means awards show producers want to provide other reasons to watch. Enter the hosts.

Over the last two weeks the Oscars announced Chris Rock would return, the Golden Globes brought back Ricky Gervais (top left, with Rock) and the People’s Choice Awards tapped Jane Lynch (right).

Now Rock, Gervais and Lynch aren’t any more or less famous than other recent show hosts. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey have been doing the Golden Globes, while Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres hosted the last two Oscar shows.

The larger point is that in all of these cases, the host has become a selling point, a reason to watch, and that’s a different role than hosts used to play.

Justly revered as Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were when they hosted the Oscars, they were facilitators. Their job was to set the stage for the real stars, who were the award winners – or, often, the award losers.

Hope and Carson kept the show moving, threw in a few wisecracks, an occasional naughty boy joke.

Gervais, conversely, is an act onto himself, as he proved when he hosted the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Globes and drew widespread attention – positive and negative – for his pointed jabs at celebs.

Critics said he crossed the line from playful to mean, though the bigger problem is that a number of times he was just unfunny – which itself may reflect the fact that Gervais is a comedy god in the U.K. and basically a cult figure in the somewhat different comedy culture here.

In any case, there’s little doubt Gervais was hired in the express hope he will become controversial again. If he can inflame some viewers, that should help ensure that even if there’s only modest interest in the statuette winners, the show will set off fireworks on Twitter.

Welcome to the social media age, even if no one is quite sure yet exactly what it means.

It also might be worth passing note that one of the few awards shows whose audience has grown over the past decade is the Grammys, which for most of those years had no host at all, just a disembodied voiceover.
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