A group of foreign journalists covering Hollywood banded together 80 years ago into the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and created the Golden Globes, a quirky, irreverent awards show, televised for decades, that people watched for fun and actors attended because they knew people would be watching.
A couple of years ago, the group got into trouble after the L.A. Times reported on its members’ unethical behavior — ranging from taking too many selfies with stars to taking too many free trips, hotel stays and meals from studios. The group also had no Black members.
After being shunned by Hollywood stars, publicists and NBC, the network that had been airing the show, the HFPA reformed itself, diversified and expanded its voting membership and set new rules forbidding all freebies. The show returned to NBC in January with stars schmoozing each other at dinner tables in the audience — but to near record low ratings. (Other big awards shows have gone up and down in the ratings.)
Now, in yet another twist, the group has gone from being nonprofit to being nonexistent after it dissolved itself and sold off the rights to the Golden Globes to Eldridge Industries, a private equity firm, and Dick Clark Productions. The new owners will create a for-profit company to run the Globes awards show and explore other commercial opportunities connected to the Globes. Proceeds from the sale will go into a newly created nonprofit Golden Globes Foundation, which will continue the HFPA’s extensive philanthropic work.
The 95 former members who live and work in the U.S., mostly as freelance journalists for foreign media outlets, will now become employees of the for-profit company making $75,000 a year (unless they choose not to stay on — in which case they get severance of $225,000). They will be paid to do the stuff they did for free in the past — screen movies and TV shows and nominate and vote for entertainers in the various Globes categories. (As HFPA members, some received stipends for helping put on the show.) Additionally, they may write for the new company’s Globes website, interviewing celebrities for the site, for example.
Two years ago they got in trouble (deservedly) for acting unprofessionally as journalists covering entertainers whose work they might be judging for the Globes. Now they will be professional awards voters who also write about celebrities for the website of that awards show. Doesn’t this pivot strip away whatever credibility the members tried hard the last two years to regain?
There’s something unseemly about a Globes voter getting paid to write for the Globes website about an actor that they may end up nominating for a Golden Globe award to be given out on the stage of a show owned by the company they work for. Will the company executives urge voters to nominate high-profile stars and directors in hopes that they will show up? The new model appears to be one giant public relations machine. Complicating all this: Eldridge has an investment in Penske Media’s entertainment media brands, which include Variety and Hollywood Reporter, trade publications that cover the entertainment industry. Eldridge also has a minority stake in the independent film company A24. How intertwined can this get?
Of course, all televised awards shows end up stoking publicity for the entertainment industry. (Oscar voters work in the entertainment business and do not get paid for their time watching movies, nominating their peers and voting on them. The Academy is a nonprofit organization.)
The companies buying the Golden Globes say this new structure is more sustainable. Freed from having to hustle for interviews with stars on location sets that they can’t afford to travel to on their own dime and freed from having to put on the show, the voting members will now be journalists who work for the Golden Globes company — and who happen to be Golden Globes voters. Also, the now-defunct HFPA diversified (10% of voters are Black and 58% overall are nonwhite) by adding 215 journalists living and working in countries around the world as voters. Overseas members would continue to be voters but would not be paid by the Globes company. So, the overwhelming majority of voters would not be paid by the Globes company.
The problem with the HFPA, many believe, is that it was running too much — the show, press conferences, awards. Todd Boehly, the chief executive of Eldridge, told the LA Times that you fix some of those problems by transitioning “an organization from a not-for-profit with no accountability and bad governance to an organization where there is employee-based accountability.”
And the executives say they will not be involved in the nominating and voting processes.
But these are changes that could bring new ethical problems for the beleaguered Golden Globes enterprise. We want the Golden Globes to continue to be a fun and wacky show where an actress shows up with deliberately mismatched shoes (see Helena Bonham Carter in 2011) and Quinta Brunson, creator and star of “Abbott Elementary,” pauses mid-speech accepting an award to say, “Hey, Brad Pitt” to the actor in the audience.
The former HFPA voters should proceed with this new iteration cautiously. Can the Golden Globes survive this transition and still matter? We’ll see.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.