Are Awards Shows Ruining Show Business

Are Awards Shows Ruining Show Business

We’re only a few months into 2024, but award shows are already trying my patience.

I loved seeing Joni Mitchell move the audience to tears at this year’s Grammys, but Jay-Z scolding everyone there for never having awarded his wife, Beyoncé, an Album of the Year trophy was wholly uncalled for. He has a point, sure, but the actual show is not the place to air such sour grapes. Besides, Beyoncé may not have been awarded Grammy’s top prize yet, but she has won 32 of them, a music industry record. Legends like Diana Ross were never awarded a single Grammy in competition, though she does have two Lifetime Achievement Grammys at least, so perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Carter should count their blessings. Or at least, they should save the grumbling ‘till after the show.

Other awards shows are wearing their problems on their sleeves, too. The Golden Globes were exceedingly classless in January, hiring insecure standup comic Jo Koy to host the show and promptly losing the audience in seconds with lame, laughless material. To add insult to injury, the schmuck blamed his writers for the bombing jokes. (I don’t think he’ll be returning any time soon.)

The Emmy Awards didn’t do much better a few weeks later with a show that seemed much more interested in trotting out yesteryear stars from last century’s TV shows than giving contemporary ones their full due. Maybe that’s why the show only collected 4.3 million viewers, an all-time low in viewership for the Emmys.  

And while the Oscars have yet to be televised this year, the Academy once again shot itself in the foot by making some big blunders, most notably failing to nominate Greta Gerwig in the Best Director category for helming Barbie, only the year’s biggest film. At least there weren’t any embarrassing nominations this year, but the press ran with the Gerwig snub as the main topic of conversation.

With publicity like that, is it any wonder that awards shows are turning off viewers, fans, and critics?

Well, I’m all three of those wrapped in one, and it’s ridiculous to me that the showbiz industry, with all of its talent and resources, cannot put on better awards shows. Only the Tony Awards are stellar year in and out, while the others almost always come up short. Way short.

Why is that?

I think I know the primary reason:

The people putting on the Tony show not only love Broadway, but they love the Tony Awards show. Those putting on other awards shows? Not so much.

Think about it. When you watch the Tony Awards broadcast, you can feel the love oozing out of every pore. The show is filled to the gills with joy, pride, and crazy-talented show people. Most other awards shows traffic in … well, an awful lot of cynicism. To them, awards shows are to be mocked, slighted, and almost always rushed through.

Why else would anyone hire a standup comic to spend his entire gig ridiculing the industry and going out of their way to belittle the nominees and stars in attendance?

Standup comics, by their very nature, are there to critique, lambast, and frankly, bitch about this, that, and everything. We laugh because they’re truth tellers calling the world out on its shit, but is that the right idea for an awards show? That much bile?

I think comics like Chris Rock and Seth McFarlane flailed and failed during their Oscar hosting duties because they applied the same snark to the awards show as they do in their everyday comedy. Remember when Chris Rock put down Jude Law during his 2005 gig, calling him “a poor man’s Tom Cruise”? The crowd squirmed, not only because Law was a pretty big deal then, having been nominated for both Best Supporting Actor and Lead Actor in the few years prior, but it was the kind of putdown that felt vicious and tin-eared. And who was Rock to besmirch such an actor when he’s hardly torn up the screen?

And in what world did Seth McFarlane think singing an opening number at the Oscars about female stars showing their “boobies” would play? That of a junior-high locker room? Ricky Gervais may have scored a lot of laughs during his ultra-sarcastic hosting of the Globes for many years, but should he have been belittling those battling alcoholism? That’s what he did with presenters like Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson?

I’m all for pushing envelopes, but should cringe be a part of awards show comedy?

And if you still believe that producers of most awards shows have the audience in mind, even though they, too, often hire outsiders laughing at the industry rather than with it, consider this …

Why on God’s green earth would any producer give an award winner only a mere 45 seconds to accept their prize? But that’s the standard at most awards shows these days. And to whom does that benefit? The runtime? The answer there is produce a smarter, tighter show, but don’t do it by cutting off the very reason we’re all tuning in.

We want to see who wins and what they have to say. It’s that simple, but it’s lost on so many putting these shows together.

I also think those who decide upon the awards often do the shows no favors either. I’m not talking about the various segments of Emmy voters or Oscar voters who determine their nominations. (Writers nominate writers, production designers nominate production designers.) Instead, I’m referring to those who determine such specialty awards that can still come up short and slander the awards show industry in its own way, too. They make for just as inexplicable awards shows as well.

Case in point, the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. Ostensibly, it is an award for those artists who have reached the winter of their years with a sterling 50-year career to look back on. And yet, the AFI continually goes out of its way to defy such basics for a life achievement award by giving it to so many stars merely in their 50s.

This year’s recipient is Nicole Kidman, a wonderful actress and star who’s done stellar work, but she’s only been in films since 1989, and her age is a mere 56. The choice of her at such a still tender age is especially misguided when you consider the giants in the industry whom the AFI has passed over, most in their 70s or older. People like Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, and Anthony Hopkins are still alive and wholly worthy. They’ve also all been starring in movies since the 1960s.

Such head-scratching oversights not only lessen the credibility of the AFI, but that of “lifetime achievement awards” as a category and a worthy show to watch.

I could also go on about those the Kennedy Center Honors have overlooked. Would you believe that their lifetime achievement award has yet to call the likes of Denzel Washington, Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, Bob Newhart, or Jane Fonda, just to name five? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a pretty embarrassing list of snubs too, including Cher, Devo, Iron Maiden, Bjork, and Brian Eno.

Rather disheartening, don’t you think?

At the end of the day, awards shows should be positive, special and rather inspiring. Are there too many of them? Is that a reason they’ve lost some of their charm? Easily. Do those in the entertainment world really need even more ego stroking in awards show to begin with? Probably not.

And have we all gotten so accustomed to celebrity culture in our midst 24/7 that no awards show can really break through all that much except when one celeb clocks another? Undoubtedly.

But still, if you’re going to put on an awards show, it needs to be good. The idea of handing out such trophies needs to be done earnestly and wholly embraced by those producing the show.

Show them the same love and enthusiasm as those looking forward to watching them. It works for the NFL—it can work for the Oscars.

Hey, wait a minute … Taylor Swift had a movie out this past year. Is it too late to replace Kimmel with her for this year’s Academy Awards?

*Feature illustration by Jeff York

Jeff York is an optioned screenwriter, film critic, illustrator, and ad man. He’s also a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, SAG-AFTRA, and a cat lover.
More posts by Jeffrey York.
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