When CBS airs the 53rd Grammy Awards on Sunday, it will be the show’s 53rd attempt at getting it right — because the show still doesn’t have the right formula. It’s not alone, since in the dearth of entertainment industry awards shows, there are very few that have gotten it right.
Here’s a look at the awards shows and how they should fit onto our collective radars:
WAIT, THEY STILL HAVE THESE?
The theory goes something like this: If you hold a movie awards show in early June that a couple million kids between the prime movie-going ages of 14 and 25 are going to watch, then you can get at least 20 A-list celebrities to show up to promote their summer blockbusters. Bam! That’s the show. It has no other reason for existence and it rarely delivers anything memorable in the way of laughs or excitement. Thanks to the MTV hype machine, it’s the classic example of something that sounds like it should be cool, but after you watch it you fire off a strongly worded e-mail to MTV executives requesting two hours of your life back. Admittedly, it has its moments …
But apparently they only involve Ben Stiller. When the highlight of a show is a journeyman actor F-bombing his way through an acceptance speech, it’s time for a retooling.
Others in the class: People’s Choice Awards, the American Music Awards (because, you know, the Grammys always give preferential treatment to everyone from Iceland), the Tonys.
I’LL WATCH, BUT I’M EXPECTING LESS THAN NOTHING
Just like the music industry itself, the Grammys are struggling to find some reason to get people interested. So far, the show has failed. Miserably. It’s just too busy. It tries to hit every genre of music, and insists on bringing out piano soloists you’ve never heard of that always break whatever rhythm the show has. The performances we want to see — Dr. Dre and Eminem is looking like a must-watch this year — will probably be sandwiched between a Bob Dylan acoustic set and a Barbra Streisand solo that will send me screaming for an ESPNU Missouri Valley Conference game. If the performances do kill on stage, they actually don’t overall because the people in the audience look like they’re having about as much fun as Charlie Sheen in rehab. When the cameras pan into the audience, those record executives and A-list music talent are more likely to be checking their Blackberrys than watching Arcade Fire bang out The Suburbs. Get rid of the record people, give out more tickets to real music fans and maybe it will look like people actually are having fun. Cutting an hour from the show and telling people like Babs “Thanks but no thanks” couldn’t hurt either.
Others in this class: Emmys, Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards (because it somehow has managed to keep some of its credibility).
IT’S USUALLY OK TO DEDICATE THREE HOURS OF LIFE TO THIS
Still the gold standard of awards shows, but that’s more because it’s the oldest and most tradition-laden rather than because it’s a good show. It’s also the one the public cares most about because it’s the most easily accessible. It takes time and patience to listen to a whole album, it takes dedication to watch a whole season of a television show, but you can pop in a DVD, sit on your couch and watch a movie in 90 minutes. That’s not to say the awards show itself is anything special, because it isn’t. It’s actually the same formulaic show it’s been for the last 30 years or more. We get a monologues from the host(s), a couple quick supporting role awards, the dedications to of the best picture nominees, the smaller awards, the best song performances, the “people who died” segment and then the big awards. Done. It’s like watching CSI — always the same, just with different words. Yet it still holds cultural significance to see what people are wearing, be comforted by the constant of Jack Nicholson sitting front and center and find out who won. Even the supposedly edgy commercials are predictable! But like the show, somehow still interesting.
Others in this class: None. But if the Oscars aren’t careful, it’ll be lumped in with the Tonys in no time.