Golden Globes’ Mushrooming Scandal Imperils Awards Show

The Golden Globes pile-on was complete when, on Monday evening, NBC, the awards show’s long-standing broadcast partner, announced it would not air the 2022 ceremony. The denouement for the notoriously ethically challenged Hollywood Foreign Press Association — well-known for extracting expensive perks and celebrity selfies in an implicit exchange for votes from its tiny membership of 87 foreign journalists covering Hollywood — offers a case study in how not to handle a crisis in the era of radical transparency.

And it puts the future of the organization — whose boozy annual kudos-cast attracted a retinue of A-list stars and hosts (even as its nominations could be inane and exclusionary) and millions in TV revenue from NBCUniversal, which in 2018 finalized a new eight-year pact worth $60 million annually, a threefold increase over the previous deal — in doubt.

The HFPA’s sloppy inattention to a steadily mushrooming scandal has played out since last February when fresh investigations published by the Los Angeles Times and New York Times detailed an appalling lack of diversity, a steady stream of graft and slipshod standards at the tax-exempt organization.

Pointedly, the L.A. Times revealed that not one of the HFPA’s 87-member journalists is Black, underscoring the lack of diversity in the nominations. Though unsurprising, this still comes a year after the Oscars grappled with the issue by doubling the number of women and people of color among its membership, which it should be noted is still majority white and male.

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The HFPA’s flimsy statement about a nebulous commitment to diversity made from the Globes stage during the Feb. 28 ceremony prompted a sternly worded missive from Time’s Up chief executive officer Tina Tchen calling out the HFPA’s lack of serious attention to the issue. Notably, Tchen also sent a letter to NBCUniversal: “Much of the credibility of the Golden Globes is drawn from its affiliation with your network. NBCUniversal has a reputational interest in fixing these issues. To do so is consistent with your chairman Brian Roberts’ commitment that the ‘company will try to play an integral role in driving lasting reform.’ As leaders of NBCUniversal television, your power as stakeholders makes you an effective force of change.”

Viewership of the pandemic-impacted 78th Golden Globes telecast sunk 64 percent to a 13-year low, pulling in only 6.9 million live viewers, further weakening a once mighty franchise that just eight years ago notched close to 20 million viewers. (The Oscars and Grammys also saw significant declines this year.)

Two weeks later, on March 15, Hollywood publicists arrayed against the organization, releasing a blistering letter signed by more than 100 firms vowing to boycott HFPA events if the organization did not promptly make meaningful reforms. And that was weeks before a letter from HFPA member and former president Philip Berk declaring Black Lives Matter a “racist hate movement” was leaked to the media. Berk was promptly ousted, but that did not stanch the bloodletting. The HFPA’s newly hired crisis communications firm and diversity consultant both quit in protest.

The town has signaled that the HFPA may be irredeemable. Last week, Netflix announced it would boycott the next Golden Globes, dealing the organization what could very well be a death blow. “We don’t believe these proposed new policies — particularly around the size and speed of membership growth — will tackle the HFPA’s systemic diversity and inclusion challenges, or the lack of clear standards for how your members should operate,” wrote Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos. “So we’re stopping any activities with [the HFPA] until more meaningful changes are made. Netflix and many of the talent and creators we work with cannot ignore the HFPA’s collective failure to address these crucial issues with urgency and rigor.”

Several industry insiders noted that the HFPA’s lack of urgency — particularly its announced lengthy 18 month timeline to implement diversity reforms — put NBCUniversal in an impossible position with regard to the 2022 telecast.

“They put one foot in the grave,” said an industry veteran. “If you’re saying it’s going to take 18 months, it became a fait accompli because what is that interim Globes supposed to look like and who’s going to show up for that show?”

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