Normally, rounding into the meaty part of showbiz awards season, as we are now, I’d be pretty chuffed. Red carpets, parties, sparkly competitions! Glamourpuss actors, singers, dancers! This stuff can be positively — in Hollywood parlance — dreamy.
Less so lately, however. The Oscars, the undisputed King Kong of televised awards shows, remains the embodiment of glitz. A huge audience is sure to tune in when it airs in late March — but fewer, by tens of millions, than would have watched 20 years ago. Americans’ level of interest has plunged as most of these industry celebrations have metastasized into an unseemly glut of self-congratulatory, often tone-deaf displays of self-regard.
In the current cultural climate, and against the backdrop of the streaming revolution, the traditional awards shows now register mostly a grudging shrug among TV viewers, particularly those younger than 50. Many who still watch with enthusiasm confess that it’s the fashions, not the celebs and contests, that draw them in.
For the show-business elite, gathered mostly in Los Angeles and New York, there’s a creeping recognition that maybe things need to change. It doesn’t look so great when lavishly compensated performers stand before cameras year after year to thank their co-stars, publicists, social-media coordinators, dog walkers, and astrologers for “this amazing honor, which I could not possibly deserve.”
Yet within the entertainment biz it’s practically a sacrilege to publicly acknowledge the obvious — that it’s high time for some of the shiny statuettes to be retired. In early 2020, Time magazine published a story it headlined “Award Shows Are Dying. Is That Such a Bad Thing?” That had to sting.
As Time and others have observed, the telecasts are simultaneously alienating and fatiguing mainstream America. (Broadway’s classy Tonys are an exception.) Competition categories are sometimes nonsensical; the scripted drivel is nausea-inducing; divisive political commentary has too often seeped into acceptance remarks; and the shows can stretch to three hours. Who’s not yawning? They have so faded in impact that A-list performers now frequently decline the opportunity to host, despite the supposed honor. That would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
Equally startling: Some VIPs in the creative community are turning their back on their own industry awards. I reached out to a veteran producer of prestige TV series and asked about the Emmy Awards. “I don’t even watch them anymore,” he told me, requesting, for obvious reasons, that his name be withheld. “Previous generations might have considered winning an Emmy really did mean you did the best work that year. Emmys are now seen as one group’s opinion, influenced by politics and other factors, but not an authoritative judgment.” Wouldn’t he like to bag an Emmy? I asked. “It’s still nice to win,” he said. “But these days it’s likely to mean far more to the winner than anyone else.”
I then checked in with a longtime friend, Mindy Burbano Stearns, a former Entertainment Tonight correspondent who I thought could offer valuable insight. She quickly passed my questions to her 16-year-old daughter, Brooke: “People don’t watch TV anymore, and if they do, they’re watching streaming services,” Brooke declared. “I don’t even know when the awards shows are on, because streaming services don’t have commercials. We just look at our phones all the time.”
Ahhh. And that is why, for those who still love the showbiz awards shows, the lights are dimming.
In the November/December issue, Cable Neuhaus wrote about how Americans hunger for good news.
This article is featured in the January/February 2022 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
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