My friend Bill invited me to tag along with him to the Music Row Magazine
Awards ceremony at BMI here in Nashville. It was held in BMI's atrium with lovely snack foods (little chicken salad croissants, roast beef sandwiches, salmon, some killer artichoke dip) and drinks (including beer and wine--not from a box) for all. While there I met the song plugger of the year Sherrill Blackman, and I got see an old friend from my improv days, Tracy Gershon of USANetwork's Nashville Star
Apart from having quality eats and low key dress code, the thing that I really appreciated about the awards ceremony is that the people attending seemed to care about the awards, they were allowed to speak as long as they wanted, and there was no band to force them to shut up. And it got me thinking about problems with Oscars and Emmys.
People are always bitching that those shows are too long and too slow and blah blah blah. I'm of two minds about this. Part of me says, "Well, you know what, it's their damned show and their damned awards. If you're bored, turn the damned channel." And after seeing this awards ceremony in person, with everyone standing around, with some low and not-so-low conversation in the background, that the problem is not with the show but with the fact that it has an audience of people that are not part of the industry. And as an outsider, shit, I don't know who most of these people are or know many of the songs or musicians or artists; but, as an outsider, I was interested to hear people talk about what they had to say on their special day. And if I didn't like it, I could just walk the 3 blocks back to my office.
On the other hand, since those awards are on t.v., signifying an invitation to the general public, I suppose it is reasonable to ask that the shows are watchable; and, if I'm an advertiser, to expect that it is watchable so that people will stick around for my commercials.
Based on my time at this ceremony, here are some quick fixes:
- Eliminate "walk outs": This is the time it takes for the presenters to walk out onto the stage to present the award. Get them closer to the podium (which to Oscar's credit they did this year for most awards), or better yet, start with them already at the podium. This probably hurts the designers who miss out on having their gowns viewed for 30 seconds on stage unobstructed by the podium; but, you know what, they get all the free publicity they need at the red carpet arrivals. The people who care can watch that crap then.
- Eliminate category introductions/witty banter: This almost never goes well. The banter is seldom witty, and the introductions are just useless. All you need is a simple declarative statement or two saying, "Sound editing is....These are the nominees for..." and you're done. We don't need meandering statements like, "The perfect rug. The right curtain. An authentic Stradivarius on the mantle. These are the worries of the set designer..." blah blah blah. Those types of intros, while informative in a very specific way, lose their value when every single intro is done in the same style. Cutting these lines saves us from inept line readings from the presenters, speeds up the process, and all without slighting the work of the nominees. The only people hurt are the writers, but writers are used to being screwed; they should be able to handle this one.
- Don't be so stingy on the time: Setting the limit at 30 or 45 or 60 seconds just forces people to think they have to fill that whole time. Use some reverse psychology: tell people they have as long as they want and they'll get it over with quicker. Ok, they probably won't. First, let's get a countdown clock on the screen for viewers at home. This will aid our heckling. Second, they should create a "minutes" bank and display it on the screen. If you finish early, they go into the bank to be used by somebody else. Maybe they can give an extra gift to winners who deposit more time in the bank. Third, sometimes we really want to hear what these winner says, even if we don't know who the hell it is. Sometimes the winner is so very funny or touching or interesting that it's worth putting up with several bad speeches to hear one really great one. Coming directly from the Music Row awards, I think the real lesson is that a simple thank you is sufficient. You should be able to thank the people you need in not too much time. While the magnitude of the award wasn't the same as an Oscar or Emmy, the bigger the scale, the bigger star; so, they should be able to handle the pressure with composure.
- Redeploy the writers: For all the writers screwed out of writing intros, you should gain work by helping performers write their acceptance speeches. And no, getting your agent or your agent's secretary to write something up doesn't count. We only listen to actors talk because somebody has put words in their mouth to say; we should adhere to that rule in televised ceremonies, too. Because it is on t.v., this stuff is supposed to be entertaining, so dammit, entertain us! Let them tell a story. Or a joke. Or just something interesting.