The Golden Globes’ Contract Year

chris rock
Producing the 80th Golden Globes is now an existential task. Photo: Al Seib/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
September 22, 2022

Tuesday’s announcement that the Golden Globes will return on NBC could have arrived with one key addition: Chris Rock as the host. That was the goal, I’m told by four sources close to the show. And Rock—a two-time Oscars host whose cachet shot up when he was assaulted on stage by Will Smith in March—was offered a “shit-ton” of money to take the gig, per one source. But alas, Rock passed (he also turned down next year’s Oscars), so Globes producers have moved on.

It’s now an existential task, producing these 80th Golden Globes. Beyond the question of whether the top stars will actually show up, the Globes are essentially betting their continued existence on this next show. NBCU’s Jeff Shell and Frances Berwick have allowed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association back (and on Peacock, too!) after a year in exile over its lack of Black members and some dubious practices, but it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Not even close.

The 2023 show has shifted to Tuesday, Jan. 10, rather than the traditional first Sunday in January; and, crucially, the H.F.P.A. and producer Dick Clark Productions have a one year deal, after which the Globes must “explore new opportunities”—meaning find another home, unless Shell decides to bid on the open market. In sports terms, the Globes now are basically an aging player in a contract year, hoping to avoid a career-ending injury (like a celebrity boycott), put up impressive-enough numbers, test free agency, and ultimately take their talents to South Beach—or in this case, CBS or Netflix.

So, how did the one-year thing happen, and who wins and loses here? After all, the NBC pact—the one that was signed in 2018, when Netflix and others bid up the license fee, right when awards shows were still delivering big ratings while most everything else on broadcast TV was not—paid the H.F.P.A. and D.C.P. more than $60 million a year, and the deal wasn’t set to end until 2027. Shell and Berwick essentially used the H.F.P.A. controversy to wiggle out of an onerous contract. Even if the January show goes off without a hitch and delivers a respectable number, and even if NBC ends up having to outbid rivals to keep it, there’s little chance the price will be anywhere near $60 million a year. Those days are over, and Shell knows it.

So NBCU’s goal is obvious, but why would D.C.P. owner Todd Boehly agree to rip up the great arrangement negotiated by Allen Shapiro and Mike Mahan, D.C.P.’s then-leaders, only to test a deflated market? Boehly could just hold NBC to the deal, and if Shell refuses to honor it, sue to enforce the terms and potentially reap the hundreds of millions of dollars owed. After all, the ongoing reforms enacted by the H.F.P.A.—the code of conduct; the dozens of new members and non-member voters, many of them diverse; paying the members $75,000 salaries to professionalize the group, etc.—have likely convinced all but Kelly Bush Novak and the most stubborn anti-Globes publicists to at least clothes-pin their noses and work with the show.

And while they are still too afraid to say it publicly, the studios and networks overwhelmingly want the Globes to return. That’s been clear for months now. The show pumps millions of dollars into the awards season economy, serves as a key marketing platform at a time when films really need it, and, according to one study, juices box office by an average of $16.5 million for winners. Barring a public talent boycott, D.C.P. will almost certainly be able to honor its end of the deal and put on a show—albeit perhaps a less starry one—with the nominees attending to accept their prizes.      

But going to war with Shell would have been a risky move for Boehly. First, it likely would have tied the Globes up in litigation, and every year the show is off the air, the asset loses value. Plus, D.C.P. does lots of business with NBC, including the Billboard Music Awards, and suing the network would likely take a current partner and potential buyer for other shows off the market. D.C.P. could have attempted to terminate the deal, sue for damages, and shop the Globes now, but few outlets would have taken a chance on a damaged show unless NBC first invited it back on the air. D.C.P. needed that stamp of quasi-approval that told all of Hollywood it was OK to re-engage. 

And then there’s the actual legal case. I’m told that D.C.P.’s attorneys advised that while the potential claims against NBC are strong, it’s not an air-tight breach, given the ongoing noise around the H.F.P.A. So there’s risk of harming the value of the show and losing in court or arbitration. Now that would mean the total destruction of the key asset of a company that China’s Dalian Wanda Group was willing to pay $1 billion to acquire just six years ago, before the deal was scuttled. A disaster scenario, and one Boehly is now avoiding.     

If you think about it, it might not be such a bad thing for the Globes to split with NBC, their home since 1993. If the linear ratings for awards shows are bad now, what will they look like in 2027? Keeping the show on a declining outlet might be worse for the Globes’ fate long-term, and Peacock (at least as it exists right now as a small, U.S. streamer) won’t help much. Plus, Shell has shown that when it comes to broadcast programming, he doesn’t really care to invest in much other than sports. Just ask Susan Rovner, who runs NBC, what her programming budget looks like today compared to NBC even five years ago. It’s tiny.

That’s the bigger issue for live events producers like D.C.P. So much of their businesses are built on linear networks whose ratings will eventually decline to zero. Their future, to the extent they have one, is in hopefully leveraging the existing audience on linear to build a bridge to a streaming future. That’s especially true now that all the streamers either currently carry advertising, or will do so soon enough. They need to figure out how to make the programming feel urgent: not just a show that you will watch at some point in your queue, and which keeps you subscribed, but a show you need to see now and will actually watch today (and endure the ads in it). Awards shows could be those shows, or they might not, but it will be worth trying. D.C.P. got Amazon Prime to air its Academy of Country Music show, but the Globes should probably be on CBS/Paramount+ or even ABC/Disney+ (if the Oscars aren’t a conflict) to hopefully start that linear-to-streaming transition.

It’s still unclear, of course, whether people want to watch awards shows on streaming. The audience is different, and Hollywood has done a fantastic job over the past decade of making itself super annoying to normal people. That’s why this year’s Globes is so important. D.C.P. head Adam Stotsky and new producer Jesse Collins must walk a tightrope; the show needs to be fun and populist—the vast majority of audiences don’t even know about the H.F.P.A. controversy, and they certainly don’t care—while also telegraphing to the Hollywood community that the H.F.P.A. is serious about its diversity commitments. One screw-up on the latter front and the industry knives will come out; give up the fun and there’s little chance of anyone in the real world caring. 

Can they pull it off? Boehly is praying they can. Yesterday I called up Helen Hoehne, the H.F.P.A. president, who has been working for 18 months to return the Globes back to TV. She was about to get on a plane for the Zurich Film Festival, but in our short chat, she seemed far more optimistic than our past conversations. And when I asked whether she’s afraid this will all blow up, she quickly responded, “We’re looking at this year’s show as an opportunity.” An opportunity, yes, but a massively risky bet as well.