The Golden Globes have always been a boozy, intimate good time, valued by studios for the promotional boost they provided movies in the run-up to the Academy Awards. But few in the industry outside of the membership of its parent organization the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. seemed to take them seriously, particularly five-time host Ricky Gervais, who during one telecast joked that you couldn’t “officially” buy a Golden Globe, “but if you were to buy one, the man to see would be [then-HFPA head] Philip Berk.”
That all changed this year when the Globes organization received a glossy corporate makeover. It got new owners (a partnership of Dick Clark Prods. and Todd Boehly’s Eldridge), a new boss (longtime Variety editor Tim Gray), a new broadcast home for 2024 (CBS) and a vastly expanded membership. (Earlier this year, Variety’s parent company, Penske Media, acquired Dick Clark Prods. in a joint venture with Eldridge.)
To top it off, the scandal-ridden HPFA was unceremoniously disbanded.
How the behind-the-scenes changes will affect the awards telecast people see on Jan. 7 is largely unknown. Gray has promised it will remain “Hollywood’s biggest party.” But without the HFPA to kick around, will it be a polite, Disney-fied, virgin margarita version of the Globes that has viewers longing for the bad old days like aged hipsters waxing rhapsodic about when the mob ran Las Vegas? Furthermore, how will it affect the Oscar race and the larger awards season field?
“We’re very happy to be the first award show out of the year to honor the talent, and if that has an impact on the other award shows, we are obviously thrilled,” says Helen Hoehne, who transitioned from president of the HFPA to president of the Golden Globes.
Gray refers to the Globes as a “divining rod” that recognizes great talent and outstanding works before others do. Entertainment journalists tend to be more blunt, touting it as a predictor for the Oscars. In reality, the Globes’ track record as an Oscars prognosticator is not that great. Historically, roughly half of the Globes winners go on to win Oscars. One of the reasons for the low batting average is the Globes splits best picture and lead actor and actress awards into separate categories for drama and comedy/musical. But doubling the winners also doubles the chances that one of them will win an Oscar.
It could be argued that what the Globes really do is bring clarity to the awards race, separating the true contenders from the also-rans and helping studios decide where to focus their campaigns. But the studios are likely to have already made those assessments in November and December, pulling support from films that underperformed with critics and/or at the box office and shifting it to ones with more forward momentum.
The biggest change to the Globes is the addition of a new box office achievement award, which addresses the biggest problem facing awards shows in a post-Marvel world: critical favorites are rarely among the year’s most popular films. To qualify as one of the eight nominees (other categories now have since nominees instead of five), a movie must have grossed more than $150 million, with at least $100 million coming from the domestic box office, or have comparable streaming viewership confirmed by a “trusted industry source.” As of Dec. 1, 21 films have qualified for the award based on box office receipts. One of them is “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which has the potential to attract a large number of young and rabidly enthusiastic viewers that otherwise would not tune into the telecast.
Longtime Globes officials like Hoehne have seen firsthand how honoring a popular film can juice the ratings. Viewership for the Golden Globes peaked at 26.8 million viewers in 2004, when the big winner was “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which earned good reviews from critics and $1.1 billion at the box office. Over the ensuing 16 years, the telecast averaged 17.6 million viewers until it got hit by the one-two punch of the pandemic and, more fatally, a February 2021 expose of the HFPA in the Los Angeles Times that laid out a long list of alleged corrupt and unethical practices and revealed that the organization had no Black members. There were no Golden Globes in 2022, and the 2023 awards attracted a mere 6.3 million viewers.
The Globes addressed its lack of diversity as part of a vast expansion of its membership in 2023, when it went from under 90 voting members to 300, representing 76 countries including Armenia, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Serbia and Tanzania. Voters are now 47% female and 60% racially and ethnically diverse, including 26.3% Latino, 13.3% Asian, 11% Black and 9% Middle Eastern. The change not only helps ensure that works by creators of color are not snubbed, it also puts it in line with the Oscars, which has been expanding the size and diversity of its membership in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite social justice campaign that began in 2015, inviting 398 new members in 2023 alone. The Oscars took it one step further, adding new diversity requirements for the cast and crew of best picture nominees that goes into effect in 2024.
The other big change announced for the Globes is the addition of an award for stand-up comedy specials, a growing genre that hasn’t been singled out for kudocast love since the CableAce Awards were last held in 1997. (The Emmys put stand-up in the outstanding variety special category, alongside live music programs like last year’s winner “Adele One Night Only” and tribute shows like “The Kennedy Center Honors.”) From a pragmatic adding-new-eyeballs standpoint, it will put more funny people in the telecast, as well as on the pre-show red carpet, upping the laugh quotient and setting the stage for more unexpected and outrageous shareable moments in a way that’s much more reliable and organic than Ellen DeGeneres ordering a pizza or Jimmy Kimmel pranking unexpecting moviegoers on the Oscarcast.
Given the disruption the entertainment industry has experienced in recent years, it’s not impossible to imagine the Globes overtaking the Oscars as show biz’s preeminent awards telecast.
Since 2014, when the Oscars attracted 43.7 million viewers, ratings for the telecast have been on a steep downward trend as they became dominated by low-budget, low-grossing movies yet worthy films. In 2022, when “CODA” (worldwide gross: $2.2 million, but it’s unknown how many eyeballs it reached when it streamed on AppleTV+) won best picture, the telecast drew just 16.62 million viewers, making it the second-lowest-rated Oscarcast after the pandemic-compromised 2021 edition (10.4 million viewers).
In contrast, up until the pandemic, ratings for the more irreverent Globes had been remarkably consistent since the telecast moved from cable station TBS to NBC in 1996. The Globes organizers have also demonstrated the ability to take substantive steps to improve ratings, unlike the Academy, which in 2018 announced it was adding a popular film Oscar category, only to shelve it the following month in the wake of complaints.
But Hoehne is not interested in entertaining such speculation.
“We’re not here to compete with the other award shows. We’re there to support them,” she says. “And I think this industry, especially now, needs all the support that it can get.
Variety parent company PMC owns Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Prods. in a joint venture with Eldridge.