Welcome to the Do-or-Die Golden Globes

Helen Hoehne
Hollywood Foreign Press Association president Helen Hoehne. Photo: David Livingston/WireImage
Matthew Belloni
January 8, 2023

Inside NBCUniversal, there’s a quiet understanding that Tuesday’s Golden Globe Awards telecast will almost certainly be NBC’s last. The network isn’t exactly pretending the Globes don’t exist; after the one-year banishment, it has been heavily promoting the return of Hollywood’s so-called “biggest party,” during football, on Today, and via its digital outlets. And I’m told a big contingent of NBCU executives, including C.E.O. Jeff Shell, entertainment networks chair Frances Berwick, NBC chief Susan Rovner, and Peacock’s Kelly Campbell, will all make the mid-week slog in the rain to the Beverly Hilton. But barring some strategy shift or an unexpected ratings spike, this will be the end of an off-and-on relationship that dates back to the 1950s. Pour out a little Moët.

Shell isn’t exactly sad, of course. He actually pulled off a minor business miracle, leveraging the publicist-led outrage over the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s lack of Black members and longstanding ethical issues to escape an onerous contract signed in 2018, right before the bottom fell out of everything except the NFL on linear television. As I discussed back in September, that deal paid the H.F.P.A. and Globes producer Dick Clark Productions more than $60 million annually, a sum growing larger each year, and it wasn’t set to end until 2027. That’s for three hours of television once a year, and when the NFL added an extra week of games, the Globes’ early-January perch suddenly became a conflict with Sunday Night Football, the highest-rated show on TV.

So cutting bait with a one-off compromise on a non-sports Tuesday would have been a great option for NBC even if the Globes and their various controversies hadn’t turned into a gigantic time-suck with diminishing advertising returns. Ad demand for the show is indeed down this year, I’m told, but several factors are in play, including the overall market troubles, the shift to mid-week, and the fact that NBC couldn’t sell the Globes at its upfront in May because it wasn’t decided until September that there would even be a Globes show to sell.

So now here we are, Hollywood has decided the Globes can return, the stripped-down red carpet is being assembled in the hotel driveway, and all those security blockades are going up in Century City. But the Globes’ billionaire owner Todd Boehly and H.F.P.A. president Helen Hoehne can’t be quite sure whether this is a swan song or simply an audition for CBS, Netflix, Amazon, or another suitor. After all the H.F.P.A. reforms—the code of conduct; the 21 diverse new members; the 103 new non-member voters, the switch to for-profit status and $75,000 member salaries (meaning the crazy ones can now be fired, like employees)—it doesn’t seem as if the militant talent publicists will be a problem. 

It’s kinda hilarious that Kelly Bush Novak, the leader of a publicity firm with nearly all-white management who nonetheless made diversifying the H.F.P.A. (and raising her own profile in the process) her chief concern, is now offering flowery support after 18 months of trying to kill the organization. “We see commendable and seismic progress,” she told the A.P. And Kelly’s not alone. The loudest P.R. critics—Amanda Lundberg, Cindi Berger, and Marcel Pariseau, among them—have mostly gone quiet, no doubt aware of how badly some of their clients need a promotional platform for their movies and shows. The politics are different, but they’re essentially the Hollywood equivalent of far-right Republicans who held up the Speaker of the House vote. After months of public grandstanding, the publicists got concessions like a smaller, segregated red carpet, and the end of H.F.P.A. selfies and press conferences they don’t control, and have subsequently changed their votes from “opposed” to “present,” allowing the blockade to drop and the show to go on.    

As a result, D.C.P. has actually assembled a decent show. The honorees, Eddie Murphy and Ryan Murphy, feel like OK gets. And it seems like most of the nominees will show, as will top executives from the studios, Netflix, Amazon and Apple (though no Tim Cook, sadly; I’m betting he won’t ever be back after that amazing Ricky Gervais “sweatshops in China” joke at the 2020 show). Brad Pitt will be there, I’m told, as will Steven Spielberg, the kind of figure that others take their cues from. The host (Jerrod Carmichael) and presenters (Quentin Tarantino is probably the biggest non-nominee name) are noticeably down a notch from the star power the Globes typically assembled, but not a total disaster. At one point, after being turned down by everyone from Chris Rock to Jamie Foxx to Tina and Amy (twice), someone told me the Globes were considering Wayne Brady to host and I almost believed it. (It wasn’t true.)     

The room will be smaller and the studio afterparties non-existent—not exactly Hollywood’s “party of the year,” though the truth is the actual stars have bailed on those parties for off-site agency events for years now—save for an event bizarrely co-hosted by Billboard. That’s Boehly and Jay Penske deploying one of their trade media brands without having to inject Variety, Hollywood Reporter or their other more Globes-appropriate brands into the controversy. (Pre-scandal, THR produced the official Globes after-show, and I appeared on that.) 

In fact, a lot of the awards-season media, socialites, and hangers-on that typically attend the Globes won’t be there this year. (It really was the world’s greatest people-watching event, especially when playing my favorite awards show game, Date…or Daughter?.) Some of that is due to the publicist demands and Covid protocols, but several members of the Critics Choice Association, another dubious journalist/awards body with a show that has been trying to supplant the Globes, have complained that they are being excluded. (A rep for the show denied this.) And several media outlets that were used to getting a specific allotment of tickets were surprised when the Globes invited individual journalists instead, essentially screening out some who had written critically about the H.F.P.A. Not a great look for an organization of journalists. (And I say that as someone who has written critically about the Globes but was invited to attend.)  

Anyway, the only thing that really matters now to Boehly and Hoehne is finding a new home for the Globes. Despite the troubles, it’s still a great brand, and the funny thing—and a challenge for show producer Jesse Collins—is that most viewers still have no idea about any of the controversies, which was evidenced by the strong social sentiment around last year’s sad, untelevised ceremony. But it’s not exactly a booming market for awards telecasts. SAG-AFTRA still hasn’t announced a home for the SAG Awards after it became a victim of the Warner Bros. Discovery bloodletting last year. And the Oscars has its own issues, well-chronicled in this space. It’s pretty clear a lot of these shows won’t survive much longer in their current forms.

Boehly told the L.A. Times in December that he wants to reinvent the show and create “events around the world under the Golden Globes brand.” That means at film festivals, cultural events, and both a TV and streaming presence. Would that work? Who knows; the holy grail is still figuring out what a compelling awards show looks like in digital media. With some tweaks, the Globes could be an interesting play for a Netflix or Amazon, both of which are streaming more live events and want to build global advertising businesses around shows that feel urgent. If Netflix picked up the Globes, maybe Ted Sarandos could even convince his buds Gervais and Rock to co-host. (The usual disclosure: I worked for Boehly when he was the controlling owner of THR.) 

In this way, Boehly’s D.C.P., which owns several awards shows and live events and almost nothing else, is a fascinating company to watch because it is facing the realities of linear TV’s demise perhaps more acutely than any other in Hollywood. Boehly, having extricated D.C.P. from its ill-conceived combination with scripted production house MRC, now wants to reimagine the Globes because he has to, as all non-sports events producers must, and all of the recent changes, from the H.F.P.A. upheaval to severing the NBC relationship, stem from the realization of that fraught future. 

It’s a challenge the Academy also faces with the Oscars, of course. But the Academy in its current form seems unwilling to make the tough moves to adapt its show, with too many constituencies to satisfy and such lofty artistic illusions of self-importance among its many members. The Globes—always a crass, money-making operation, run by kooky outsiders and literally saved from oblivion by Dick Clark—occupies a much smaller universe, as both a creative and business endeavor, accountable only to the market for its product. After all the scandal and machinations of the past 18 months, having a crass, money-making billionaire in Boehly as its owner may end up being the reason why the Globes survive.