Is the Golden Globes’ Comeback Doomed by the New-Look HFPA?

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The Golden Globe Awards might be coming back, according to some reports. Or the reports of the Globes’ return might be premature, a trial balloon launched by those with a lot at stake in that return.

But while things appear to be up in the air, can we ask a couple of questions?

For starters: How will it benefit Hollywood to bring back the quintessential high-visibility, low-pressure awards show?

(High visibility because the ratings are pretty good, and the stars, at least in the past, have shown up; low pressure because all those stars know that it doesn’t really matter if several dozen members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association give that clunky statue to somebody else.)

Also: As the HFPA reaches for reforms, are those moves doomed by the organization’s new, for-profit structure, which is automatically less transparent and loaded with more conflicts of interest than the old structure?

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The background behind those questions is well known by now. A series of stories in the Los Angeles Times in 2021 forced the industry to acknowledge and act on things it already knew – that the HFPA was a small, insular organization with no Black members, a history of asking embarrassing questions at their press conference and an array of ethical lapses. Publicists announced a boycott, NBC said it wouldn’t air the ceremony in 2022 and the HFPA promised sweeping reforms.

Those reforms have included new ethics rules, outside oversight and the admission of 21 new members, six of whom were Black. More recently, the membership approved a plan to sell its stake in the Golden Globes to Eldridge Industries, a company owned by the HFPA’s interim CEO, Todd Boehly, who also owns Dick Clark Productions and whose companies have a stake in the Beverly Hilton (where the show is held) and in Hollywood trade publications Variety and the Hollywood Reporter (as well as having a partnership with Penske Media, which owns Deadline and IndieWire).

Since that deal was made, NBC has been quiet about whether it will indeed bring back the Globes, while two prominent publicists have challenged the HFPA on whether the organization is truly making changes. (Others, including most of the P.R. companies that led the boycott of HFPA screenings and press conferences, have declined to comment.)

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So what would the benefits be to a resurrected Golden Globes, after this January’s non-televised, stars-free ceremony? The Globes have been called a key step on the road to the Academy Awards, but Oscar voters have never needed the HFPA to bring worthy films to their attention. (While you can criticize the Globes voters, at times they’ve made smarter choices than their more esteemed colleagues at the Academy: “The Social Network” over “The King’s Speech,” for example, or, debatably, “The Power of the Dog” over “CODA.”)

Neither are the Globes necessary as an awards-season signpost: For next January, the American Film Institute and BAFTA Los Angeles both timed their big awards events to the Critics Choice Awards before knowing if and when the Globes would return. That doesn’t mean the CCA can be “the new Globes,” since it doesn’t even air live in the Pacific time zone – but it suggests that the other players in awards season aren’t at all dependent on what the HFPA does. (Full disclosure: I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association.)

Certainly, the Globes make money for people: For Dick Clark Productions and the HFPA, which split NBC’s $60 million payment for the broadcast rights; for hotels and airlines and stylists and caterers and screening rooms and publicists who serve or work with those who come to the show; and for the Hollywood trades (from the ones Boehly owns to TheWrap, which he doesn’t), all of whom will probably get a few more advertising dollars than they would in a Globes-free season.

And the Globes make money for the members of the HFPA, who have outsized clout because of their TV show – and, you could argue (as those members do) for the educational and charitable and film-oriented organizations who receive grants from the HFPA. But this last group is now tricky, because the new HFPA will have its charitable arm separated from the Globes, which bring in the vast majority of the organization’s money.

An organization that must show Hollywood how it has changed is moving from being a non-profit, where annual financial reports must be made public, to a private company, where the only information that gets out is what’s released or leaked. From one that has to show us where the money goes to one that doesn’t.

And to one where the guy who owns it and pays the members a reported $75,000 a year also has a stake in the company that’s putting on the show and the venue where it’s held and the media that is covering it. “The risk of monolopy,” veteran publicist Cassandra Butcher called it when she confronted HFPA President Helen Hoehne during a panel at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival.

The move brought immediate reaction from Fipresci, the international film critics’ association whose members had been invited to become unpaid Golden Globe voters (not paid HFPA members) in order to increase the size and diversity of the voting body. “With the HFPA we had agreed to mediate for a journalistic organization, not for a commercial company,” the Fipresci board told its members. “It is purely up to our members if they wish to continue their contribution as voter.”

Maybe NBC is OK with the new HFPA, and maybe enough publicists, studios and networks will find enough benefit in the plan to bring back the Globes to go along with it. But the new structure is clearly throwing up roadblocks – and at this point, a less transparent, more profit-minded awards show isn’t exactly a good look.

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