By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
This Sunday’s 62nd Annual Golden Globes ceremony marks the 50th time the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will be honoring achievement in television. It’s also a time when the awards telecast is attracting record audiences, burying a history with the medium that has, until recent years, often been fitful.
Last year’s telecast averaged almost 27 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and attracted 50 million U.S. viewers overall, the largest in its history. Unlike other awards shows, the Golden Globes have been increasing audience since 1996, when the telecast moved to NBC.
“It’s a show that has been gaining attention over time,” said Curt Sharp, VP of alternative programs and specials for NBC.
“I’d like to think this is because we’ve done good promotion and have a good show,” Mr. Sharp said. “But I also think it’s because the Golden Globes is the first awards show of the season and the audience is keen to seeing the awards climate. It’s also a party, a banquet, and the audience gets to see as many stars and as much glamour as possible.”
NBC has a pact with Dick Clark Productions and the HFPA to air the special through 2011. While the HFPA declines to disclose the amount of the license fees, Elmar Biebl, the group’s VP, said, “This year we gave a record $1 million in grants to film schools and other charities. All that money comes from what we get for the show. That should tell you something.”
When the HFPA handed out the first Golden Globe for TV in 1956, it was an overall award for television achievement and was shared by Dinah Shore and Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball for general accomplishment, as well as Walt Disney Studios specifically for its “Davy Crockett” series of specials.
At the time, the awards themselves were not televised. That did not come until 1958, when KTTV in Los Angeles aired them locally only. The audience was not disappointed. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. marched up on stage at the Cocoanut Grove unplanned-drinks and cigarettes in hand-and took over the show.
The telecast was still local in 1960 when a potentially explosive Hollywood moment took place. Gossip divas Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper, who had been carrying on a legendary feud since 1938, were both honored with lifetime awards for journalistic achievement. The assembled waited on the edge of their seats to see whether there would be an incident. There was not.
In 1965, the Globes finally went national, broadcast for the first of four years on special episodes of NBC’s “Andy Williams Show.” But when Mr. Williams departed TV, so did the awards for another four years.
After that, the Globes had many homes, including national syndication and brief stints on NBC and CBS before the TBS SuperStation picked them up in 1989. When NBC snagged them again in 1996, the audience soared to 18.47 million from 3.64 million in 1995.
Today the show is distributed to about 40 countries by Alfred Haber Distribution. Parts of the broadcast are seen in 85 additional countries.
Barry Adelman, executive producer of the show along with Dick Clark, whose company has produced the event since 1983, said the show has not really changed as the audience has grown.
“It’s just about the most star-studded show on TV each year, and our philosophy is not to make it bigger, but to make it more intimate. We like to say that it’s the one event attended by all of Hollywood,” Mr. Adelman said.
The banquet-seating plan brings some challenges to the producers and eight-time director Chris Donovan. “There isn’t much room for cameras in between the tables, but somehow we do it without intruding on the event,” Mr. Adelman said.
The presenters and frequently the winners are quite loose, some say because of the champagne flowing freely at the tables. In 1999, when he won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a jovial Jack Nicholson mooned the audience, though the censor in charge of the five-second-delay button thankfully kept the broadcast civil.
Other moments have had more sentiment attached. Jenny Cooney Carrillo, the co-chair of the HFPA’s Television Committee, recalled, “When Claire Danes won as best actress in a drama series for `My So-Called Life’ in 1995, she was only 15 and she knew the show had already been canceled. She just won everyone’s heart.”
For Mr. Adelman, “possibly the greatest moment in the history of all awards shows” came in 1998 when Ving Rhames won as best actor in a TV movie or miniseries for his work in “Don King: Only in America.” Mr. Rhames called fellow nominee Jack Lemmon to the stage and insisted he deserved the award.
Mr. Sharp predicted that with Robin Williams winning this year’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, viewers can expect “something special” to take place. “He’s created a lot of memorable moments when he’s won before,” Mr. Sharp said.
Mr. Sharp also said ratings might take a bit of a dip from last year, as they did in 2003, when, like this year, the event was competing against an AFC Championship football game. He said the telecast may also be airing opposite an original episode of “Desperate Housewives,” a scheduling move he characterized as “ironic, perhaps, since the stars of that show will be on our show that night as nominees.”