Award shows are really great, but also we should maybe rethink them completely
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Oh, award shows. I wish I knew how to quit you.
When I say award shows, I mean the big ones—the Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the Grammys—and to a lesser extent any other shows that are televised or get media coverage. I don’t mean localized, industry specific circle jerks where everyone and his mother goes home with hardware.
Lately there’s been an overwhelmingly negative feeling online about award shows. They’re no longer relevant. They’re a relic of the un-woke past. They’re dead in the water. The general public and online media seems to be over it, and as any of the negative pieces written will attest to, this is backed up by declining ratings across the board.
Writing for Vice last year, Conner Garel writes, “Over the last few years, amid an aggressively declining viewership, award shows have struggled, and ultimately failed, to arrive at a fraction of the cultural importance they once had.”
Harsh. But not untrue.
The question is, does this mean they can’t be saved?
Out of touch, out of mind
If you ask the internet—never a great idea—the problem with awards shows is that there are too many problems. Everyone seems to have an issue with something and there aren’t a lot of potential solutions being thrown around.
Aside from being too long—something almost everyone can agree on—one of the biggest complaints is that these shows are too out of touch with the general public.
In Why Award Shows Suck (And How to Fix Them), Phoenix Clouden offers that awards shows “are profoundly bureaucratic, open to political influence, and are severely micro-managed by old, sensitive egomaniacs, who get a sick pleasure from regularly dismissing any album, show or film that’s too popular, just to spite the viewer.”
And yes, the image of an old white man, having his top hat and monocle blown away by the news that Black Panther has grossed over $1 billion worldwide, is hilarious. It just doesn’t seem like a strong motivating factor for anyone casting their Oscar vote. This argument is usually seen when a personal opinion doesn’t match up with the actual winner of the award.
But still, the general consensus is that these shows need to do more to cater to what the public wants. I don’t know if that’s true.
Host with the most no more
Another issue regularly pointed to is the host. According to the internet, every host (or potential host) is garbage, for one reason or another. Which is not to say that there aren’t legitimate issues raised like with this year’s Kevin Hart debacle.
Declaring The Award Show Host is Dead in an article for HuffPost, Leigh Buckley writes, “the job of an awards show host—in the age of real-time social media criticism, at least—is a lose-lose gig.”
We see this time and time again. The hosts of these shows are heavily criticized for an evening of jokes and gimmicks that usually don’t even reflect the best work they do. And if someone does manage to pull it off fairly well (see, Ellen Degeneres, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), as Buckley points out, we “demand more from next year’s choice—be funnier, be quicker, be more aggressive, but also relax.”
Honestly, it’s a wonder that anyone’s interested in the job in the first place. In fact, after the last fall’s controversy resulted in Hart losing the spot, literally no one wanted the job. And audiences don’t seem to care. The ratings for Sunday night's Oscar ceremony are up 11 percent from last year's and the hostless evening seems to have been reviewed pretty favourably overall.
So here’s an idea: let’s stop asking these people to do the impossible. Invite artists to share hosting duties or just leave it all up to the presenters. Then maybe we can all just shut up and enjoy the show.
To politic or not to politic
And then there’s the politics. Everyone loves to bitch about how award shows have become too political.
There was the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, rightfully calling out the Academy Awards’ history of not-so-diverse nominees. Last year’s Golden Globes famously saw most of the attendees wearing black in support of the Time’s Up Movement against sexual harassment in Hollywood. And then there’s the #AskHerMore campaign, which encourages the media to ask women questions about their work and achievements—and not just, “who are you wearing?”
It seems like in recent years award shows have become more and more political. But take a look around—the world is falling apart. In 2019, everything is political. And it needs to be. Any effort to try to correct the raging dumpster fire we live in, is a welcome one.
In a similar vein, people like to complain about winners making political speeches. In an article for Variety, Tim Gray writes, “to many in the public, an awards speech ... will incite a sigh of ‘Oh, here we go again’.”
Well, get over it. Hate to break it to you, but award show politics were around long before Meryl called out Trump at the Golden Globes. Stars making political statements have long been an award show staple. And just FYI, they haven’t always been liberal statements.
So while you may not love award show politics, they aren’t anything new. And they aren’t going anywhere.
It’s not fricking about you!
Which brings us to the actual problem—the audience.
Yup. It’s the audience that’s ruining everything. The same people who actually still watch and like award shows are the first ones to go online and complain about everything they’re seeing.
Whether it’s the show’s overall production, the host, the presenters, or the awards themselves, these people have opinions—and they’re rarely positive ones. Disagreeing with award shows has become part of the fun of watching.
In 8 Reasons why the Grammys matter, and don't, David Greenwald writes, “What we have here is a misunderstanding, about what award shows are supposed to do, about what the standards are for good music, whether or not anyone needs to have an opinion on something just because it exists.”
Of course people have opinions, and they have a right to them. But also, they don’t fucking matter.
This isn’t about them.
More specifically, the problem here is the executives who are in charge of these award shows, trying to address every demand and complaint of the online hoard. Here’s the thing about the internet though—it’s never happy and it can’t be pleased. So just stop trying.
Phoenix Clouden argues the way to fix award shows is more viewer involvement. Counter argument: no it isn’t.
Back to the future
So how can award shows save themselves? Change everything.
First of all, forget the audience and remember why these shows exist in the first place. It’s become about the spectacle of the night, but these shows are fundamentally about industries celebrating artists and their good work. As they should be.
“But oh no! If it’s all for the benefit of the industry, people at home will stop watching!”
That’s fine. The first Oscars were fifteen minutes long and weren’t televised. Neither were the first Golden Globes—they were started as a luncheon, by eight journalists who decided to call themselves the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association. The Grammys and the Emmys, also weren’t initially televised.
Part of this is obviously because most of these shows started before people had televisions. But the point is, they weren’t broadcast for public consumption. They never were about the audience.
And think about it. If you’re Frances McDormand, Viola Davis or Daniel Day Lewis and you’re up on that stage, you’re accepting an award that was decided by your peers and other people in your industry. That’s means a hell of a lot more than the fact that Brenda in Iowa thinks the award should’ve gone to the one film she saw out of the the fifty-something nominated.
This is exactly why no one gives a shit about the People’s Choice Awards.
I’m not saying ignore the audience completely. Throw them a few hashtags to use. Let them have some fun. But don't look to them for ideas when it comes to producing next year’s show.
In fact, the less involved they are, the more they’re probably going to want it. Give them something they feel they can’t have.
It’s all about marketing
And I get it. You still need people to tune in.
But in order to appeal to people, these shows need to rediscover some creative spirit.
If the second big reason they exist (aside from celebrating artists for their work) is to market films, TV shows and music, then they need to be marketed creatively.
It isn’t difficult to throw a bunch of top creatives into a room and get them to completely rewrite the award show script. Take the Oscars back to a 15 minute format! Broadcast the Grammys from the moon! Or hand out free cocaine at the Golden Globes! I dunno. But creative teams need to be brought in and allowed to start from scratch—rethink these things completely.
Recent efforts to rejuvenate these shows involve finding hipper, younger hosts and broadcasting live backstage feeds. But these aren't real solutions. They're bandaids over bullet holes.
Award shows are dying. And the people in charge need to commit to transforming them into something actually meaningful. As opposed to the parades of flaming garbage we've been hate watching--year after year.