The Fizzled Golden Globes

Britney Spears, freeloading hacks, and a painful whooshing sound.

With the writers’ strike dictating that the 65th annual Golden Globe Awards would not proceed as usual, the ceremony’s usual orgy of Armani and gratitude was replaced last night with a broadcast of attractive people reading lists. NBC attempted to offer some compensatory eye candy by running a special edition of Dateline in the hours before the announcement. The show, dubbed “Going for Gold,” didn’t stint on auric figures of speech, with host Matt Lauer breathing such lines as “… but first, a golden opportunity to meet some of the nominees.” Nor was there a shortage of embarrassing cross-promotional gimmickry (Tiki Barber and a squad of NBC’s football folk showed up to submit their predictions) or airy clichés. You’ll be pleased to know that James McAvoy is “keeping his head above the hype” and that Patricia Arquette marches “to the beat of her own drum.”

But such boilerplate profile-speak is standard operating procedure on shows like this. What was striking was that half of the segments found interviewees entertaining questions about tabloid tarts and their scandals. Apparently, being a Hollywood actor without a position on Britney Spears is more shameful than being a presidential candidate without an approach to Pakistan. Arquette was egged into a lengthy discussion of Ms. Spears’ tribulations. During a bit on Sally Field, Lindsay Lohan’s mug shot slid across the screen. Elsewhere, the correspondent for NBC asked Juno’s Ellen Page if, given the current outbreak of young ladies behaving badly, she felt any particular pressure not to behave like a drug-addled floozy. I don’t recall her answer, but I do remember that the camera pulled in on her Chuck Taylors: evidence that she’s keeping her head above the hype.

The presentation that followed could have used a blotto starlet or volatile pop siren—anything to enliven the show. It was shiny, and it was dull, and one felt sympathy for hosts Billy Bush and Nancy O’Dell, the head cheerleaders on Access Hollywood, as opposed to the usual sensation of light-headed resignation that their presence inspires. Crowded behind a podium, the two of them would read the names of the nominees in the glitziest categories and then a blast of synthesized sibilance would accompany the revelation of the winner. Whooosh—Cate Blanchett. And Billy and Nancy would spend 20 seconds chattering in approval or surprise before moving on to the next category. Whoosh—Mad Men. Whoosh—Tina Fey. Their colleague Shaun Robinson sat off to the side, where her duties including eliciting Oscar-race commentary from a former colleague of mine, Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger, and pretending that all of this was fun. “This is fun,” she lied.

Meanwhile, over at the Beverly Hilton, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosted a press conference, and a dream team of entertainment-news anchors announced the winners to the assembled media. CNN aired it as a special edition of Larry King Live, and Larry chimed in on the proceedings with his usual gruff cluelessness. To be clear, this event involved a bunch of reporters listening as a bunch of reporters revealed the victors of a contest run by a bunch of reporters. That’s substance. The affair was far livelier than NBC’s hour—that is to say, it was not dead on arrival. There was an audience, so the microphones picked up applause, and the lamentable preannouncement whoosh was banished by a drumroll played on tom-toms. There was also the wonderful dissonance of hearing Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart state the title of 4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days—the Romanian-made abortion drama—in the same happy-talk tone she would use to introduce a segment on celebrity weight loss.

The TV Guide Channel got up the gumption to broadcast post-show analysis of all of this. Its defining moment came early on, when a personality put a question to the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, that oft-derided horde of freeloading hacks. “Was there any breath of fresh air for you?” “No,” he replied. “I don’t think so.”