In a bit of unabashedly cheeky marketing flair, NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association have dubbed the upcoming return of the Golden Globes “An Evening of Joy and Devastation.” You can’t fault the network (or the awards body, really) for wanting to get ahead of the endless headlines that will no doubt surround the restoration of Hollywood’s booziest awards show. After all, the past few years have seen the HFPA embroiled in a string of crises that many had thought (and others had quietly hoped) would bring down what was documented to be an exclusionary, glad-handing, and cliquey group that had somehow branded itself as the must-see TV event to kick off awards season.
If we are to trot out the tired cliché of Hollywood loving itself a comeback, we should also wonder how and why the upcoming telecast will mark such a definite return to form for the erstwhile chaotic organization’s annual celebration.
First, some context. In case you’ve forgotten, back in 2020 a lawsuit brought against the HFPA alleged that the insular, 87-member nonprofit organization, as the Los Angeles Times reported at the time, acted “as a cartel that stifles competition for its members.” Snickering whispers that had plagued the HFPA and the Globes for decades—that its members were eager to schmooze with A-listers and line their pockets with the organization’s coffers—were seemingly finally brought to light. That the lawsuit was eventually dismissed didn’t quite distract from the group’s other questionable choices (namely the lack of Black journalists in its ranks; perhaps a reason why high-profile projects like Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Judas and the Black Messiah underperformed in that year’s Globes ceremony) and a system that felt out of step with a rapidly changing Hollywood that, on paper, seemed committed to diversity and inclusion.
The scandals and the investigations led to some high-profile boycotts. Netflix and Amazon Studios, for instance, stopped their activities with the HFPA following outcry from 100 or so Time’s Up members, who’d urged tangible actions by the organization. This led to a Globes-less 2021–2022 awards season. That’s right, NBC pulled the plug on last year’s telecast, a seeming death knell for the show after eight decades. But rather than slinking away quietly, the HFPA has been not so quietly burnishing its brand yet again. New members, new policies, a new owner, even—the trades have kept us all abreast of such changes.
Which brings us to this year: on January 10, 2023, NBC will air the 80th edition of the Golden Globes. Emmy-winner Jerrod Carmichael will serve as host, while a pair of Murphys (Ryan and Eddie) will each receive lifetime achievement awards. Will the show, which will be simulcast on Peacock (huzzah for corporate synergy!), mark the end of a tumultuous era or will it be a hollow attempt to revive a property still in need of major revamping?
If the lineup of presenters and attendees is anything to go by … it may be too soon to tell. For every Quentin Tarantino and Ana de Armas confirmation, there are bound to be just as many no-shows. Brendan Fraser, who’d allegedly been sexually harassed by an HFPA member years ago, is not attending. Nor is Tom Cruise, who publicly returned his Globes last year, despite Top Gun: Maverick earning two nods this year. Many A-listers have cited scheduling conflicts—sorry, Julia Roberts fans, we won’t get her signature cackle on TV this year!—while others have, wisely, perhaps, quietly opted to neither confirm nor deny their attendance.
As Helen Hoehne, president of the HFPA told Variety recently, the upcoming show will be “a chance for us to come back to NBC and showcase our unique relationship with our audience and the world.” Stressing how important it was to uplift this year’s roster of nominees, she explained how the telecast will undoubtedly function as a rebranding of sorts: “The media landscape continues to shift,” she added, “and our only goal is to provide a unique, unbelievably entertaining show. We want to continue to grow, and honor our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The whiff of PR-speak feels a tad overbearing, yes. Then again, this is an organization still in crisis mode and a lot will be riding on their weekday telecast. Moreover, the HFPA has spent the better part of the last year boasting via its social media channels about its philanthropic endeavors. The group’s hope, no doubt, is that whatever financial and cultural good it can be associated with will at least help us forget, and maybe even forgive, the longstanding accusations.
With Carmichael at the helm, not to mention appearances by the likes of Tracy Morgan and Ana Gasteyer, there’s little doubt that NBC and executive producers Jesse Collins and Dionne Harmon will be able to put on a funny show full of “joy and devastation” (whatever that means). That has rarely been a problem, especially in the last decade and a half, where Ricky Gervais, and especially Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, made the Globes a wildly entertaining, bordering on gloriously inane, evening. But it’s unclear whether the Globes 2.0 (or would it be 3.0, since they already had to alter their business practices back in 1968 following an FCC investigation?) even deserve a spot in the merry-go-round that is Hollywood’s award season.
Sure, the Critic’s Choice Awards, with its Oprah-like approach to nominations (“And YOU get a nod! And YOU get a nod!”), the Indie Spirits, with its titular indie focus (still a much too cool and laid back affair), and the SAG Awards (far too restrained and workmanlike) have never quite found a way to elbow out the Globes and their braze chaotic/evil energy. Their idiosyncrasy was always the Globes’ selling point. Figuring out what bonkers nomination would get all of us scratching our collective heads (remember three-time nominee The Tourist?) became a ritual for seasoned awards watchers. And that was before the boozy speeches and scathing monologues made the night itself feel unpredictable in all the right ways. As the Oscars move toward staid and, to some, quite stuffy corners, not to mention a cratering ratings spiral, the Globes could always deliver good TV. This in spite, and sometimes because, of the fact that they were doled out by 90 or so foreign journalists who loved playing kingmaker.
At its most elemental the Globes always laid bare what is true of most (all?) of these types of award shows: this is little more than a publicity-based machine. Where the Oscars and the Emmys (and the SAGs and other union awards, even), can hide behind the notion that this is a peer-driven chance to celebrate the best in the industry, the Globes could never be faulted for merely reminding us that glad handing, photo-ops and schmoozing weren’t just incidental parts of this circus but maybe their very reason for being. Such brazenness (seriously, speeches over the years have made this almost a required joke in itself) is likely why the show’s comeback feels all but assured.
Hollywood, town and industry alike, runs on image making. Which is to say, on carefully curated imagery. Systemic problems—especially those shared by an industry that, despite pledges to overhaul its own endemic problems around diversity, inclusion, gender parity and representation—continue to lag behind. Award season has long been a dog and pony show where publicists orchestrate months-long campaigns that seek to (re)present the best the industry has to offer. Why would a town and an industry so devoted to glittering glamor deny itself yet another chance at such a practice? Why would it forgo the millions of social media impressions, red carpet shots, and FYC billboard dollars a show like the Globes generates year in and year out? Especially when, to hear the subtext of what’s been happening this past year, the organization is committed to using philanthropy to launder its reputation?
Even if the ratings don’t quite match the record-breaking numbers the HFPA and Dick Clark productions had come to expect in the years leading up to its dark year in 2022—heck, even if the winners don’t manage to very much influence Oscar voters’ minds—the Globes’ return should serve as a reminder that comebacks in this industry are rarely little else but rebranding opportunities. In essence, whatever happens on Tuesday is almost beside the point; just the fact that it’s happening at all, and so soon, points to a well-oiled publicity machine ready to shake off its “off year.” Let the joy (and devastation!) continue apace.