Voted on by an easily swayed group of fewer than 100 international journalists — compared with the thousands of film and television academy members — the award itself has little industry standing. And yet the Globes have lived on as the wayward cousin of the Oscars and Emmys, acknowledged to be of inferior status while still considered legitimate enough to attract studio campaign dollars each season. The public is in on it, too, as the telecast has been a reliable ratings magnet for NBC.
“I think people have just always gone along with it because it’s there,” said Charles G. Thompson, an awards strategist who has worked in the industry for nearly three decades.
That attitude might be changing. The February ceremony garnered an abysmal 6.9 million viewers, an all-time low for the network that has aired the show since the mid-1990s (with the exception of 2008, when the HFPA held a news conference because of the Writers Guild of America strike). Pandemic-era telecasts have suffered across the board, but the Globes also aired a week after the Los Angeles Times published a thorough report on the HFPA’s history of “ethical lapses,” and a breakdown of its membership that pointed out the group had “no Black members.”
So the question remains: Why is anyone even watching this thing? And are the potential ratings from a televised celebrity boozefest worth the hassle of navigating a public relations disaster? NBC decided they weren’t, announcing earlier this month that it would not be airing the 2022 Globes — joining the chorus of industry leaders and publicity firms who have publicly demanded HFPA reforms.
“It’s an expensive show for [the network] as well,” said Michael Schneider, a senior editor at Variety magazine. “It was easier for NBC to say, let’s take a breather and not put up with HFPA shenanigans. They also know that because the HFPA now is seen as a little bit of spoiled goods, no one else is going to want to touch it. The HFPA has no choice but to accept NBC’s terms.”
The Globes, per the HFPA’s mission statement, are intended to “focus wide public attention upon the best in motion pictures and television.” The organization took form in the early 1940s after Los Angeles-based journalists from overseas banded together to publicize and distribute Hollywood projects all over the world. They held the first Globes ceremony in 1944.
Over time, HFPA members — whose exact credentials as journalists are rather murky these days — have faced accusations of being easily bought or swayed by special perks. Pia Zadora, for instance, memorably beat Elizabeth McGovern and Kathleen Turner for best new star in 1982 after her billionaire husband reportedly flew a bunch of HFPA members out to Las Vegas. In a review of the film for which she won, the New York Times described Zadora as a “spectacularly inept” actress.
CBS dropped the Globes after Zadora’s win led to increased scrutiny of HFPA voting practices, and neither ABC nor NBC jumped at the chance to swoop in. Dick Clark Productions arrived at the moment of crisis, according to the Hollywood Reporter, which stated that Clark “took a hands-on role in making the show more professional.” He also recruited actors to present awards, boosting the telecast’s star power. After striking a deal to air the ceremony on TBS, he eventually landed a more lucrative one in the mid-1990s with NBC, where the Globes have since remained.
“It exploded on NBC,” Schneider said, noting that the increased viewership — which approached 20 million soon after the show jumped to the network but surpassed that mark by 1998 — helped legitimize the Globes and shape the awards’ public image into “something that was more than a joke.”
“They promoted the hell out of it, made it a big deal,” Schneider continued. “People talk a lot about how the Golden Globes are just a fun party where celebrities and producers are able to go and drink and have fun and really let loose in a way they can’t at an award show like the Oscars. People came to love going to the Golden Globes. It’s all those things around the same time.”
Of course, the same campaign tactics continued behind the scenes — most prominently utilized by Harvey Weinstein, who saw the Globes ceremony’s earlier timing in award season as an opportunity to sway Oscar voters. Unlike with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which often acts as a middleman between studios and voters, HFPA members are much easier to reach directly.
Thompson, the awards strategist, described the HFPA as more “freewheeling” than the academy. While its members have their favorite stars to nominate, he said, many industry figures ranging from studio heads to the actors and actresses themselves also “know how to work the group.”
“It’s a big part of playing the game,” he said. “A lot of it is making sure you’re available to the group, attend the press conference, attend the screenings, show up at any kind of dinners or parties.”
Critics of the HFPA argue that its biases are evident even in whom it allows to play the game. Producer Shonda Rhimes shared a news article stating that the organization had rejected requests to hold conferences for prominent projects with Black-led casts — including her hit Netflix series “Bridgerton” — and tweeted, “This is why HFPA’s house is on fire. They lit the flame w/their own ignorance.” Sharing the same article, director Ava DuVernay wrote that fewer than 20 members of the HFPA showed up for a conference on her acclaimed series “When They See Us.”
In response to the L.A. Times reporting — as well as pushes from major industry figures and more than 100 publicity firms who threatened to boycott HFPA events if there wasn’t “transformational change” — the organization recommended reforms, including expanding its membership by 50 percent over the next 18 months. Critics argued the suggested changes didn’t go far enough.
“There’s finally some action and consequences, [whereas] in the past, people in the industry looked the other way and bit their tongue and just accepted it as, that’s just the way it is,” Schneider said.
And who else to call out the HFPA on its very own platform if not Poehler and Fey, who returned to co-host the February Globes ceremony?
“We all know that award shows are stupid,” Fey said on the show. “The point is, even with stupid things, inclusivity is important, and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press. I realized, HFPA, maybe you guys didn’t get the memo because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald’s. You got to change that. So here’s to changing that.”