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Thrilled Again : How Many Shows Are Too Many?

April 12, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

The Grammys . . . the American Music Awards . . . the Country Music Assn. Awards . . . the MTV Music Video Awards . . . the Music City News Awards . . . the Urban Teen Music Awards . . . the Nashville Network's Viewers' Choice Awards. . . .

Hardly a week goes by without some organization's handing out miniature cowboy hats, gramophones, astronauts or Elvises to gleeful musicians, who thank God and/or their fans before the cameras on a televised awards spectacular.

This week alone, viewers could subject themselves to four televised music awards shows: Sunday's Stellar gospel awards on KTLA Channel 5, Monday's Academy of Country Music's Hats handed out on KCBS Channel 2, tonight's Soul Train Music Awards (televised in Los Angeles on KTTV Channel 11 at 8 p.m. on Thursday) and Friday's World Music Video Awards at 11:30 p.m. also on Channel 11.

On top of those, nominations will be announced this week for the first recipients of the new Elvis statuettes to be awarded May 31 on ABC's International Rock Awards.

And the major attraction of two of the shows this week (Soul Train and the World Music Video Awards) will be special presentations of achievement awards to Michael Jackson--who was given a similar award on the American Music Awards show in January in a lavish, loving 20-minute segment that led some to dub the proceedings the American Michael Awards.

Of course, anyone who wins one will say that awards are good things. But has it become too much of a good thing?

It depends on whom you talk to.

"The whole process is going down the tubes," said Don Cornelius, who will preside over the third annual Soul Train Music Awards at the Shrine Auditorium tonight. The problem, he said, is that the glut of shows has diluted their importance in the minds of many of the stars.

"It's more fashionable these days, particularly with the major shows, not to be there, rather than to be there. So what we end up doing is selling a package to a network or advertiser that makes a promise it can't keep."

But Cornelius said the specialized nature of his Soul Train awards show is an attraction to black musicians, who feel slighted by some of the other generalized awards shows.

"With the exception of the major stars who won't go to anything , everybody wants to be at this one," he said.

Larry Solters, senior vice president of music for MCA, who deals with awards shows, concurred.

"The Soul Train awards are real good," he said. "Those people really want to be there and it seems like it means something. It's not just a trumped-up TV show."

But Solters was less enthusiastic about the career benefits of some of the other awards. "It only really means something in an artist's bio," he said of winning even a top award, such as a Grammy.

What is more important today is the chance to perform on a show.

"The exposure is important," Solters said. "It's much harder to get the exposure with the loss of shows like 'Solid Gold' and the old variety shows."

References to the old variety format were frequent among people connected with the awards shows--some complementary, others not so.

"Variety show producers are so creatively constipated," said Michael Greene, president of the Grammy-sponsoring National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. "They say, 'Gee, what can I do a show on? How about an award?' They decide to come up with an award in order to have the stars come out."

Greene argued that there is a glut of awards shows that lessened the value of established awards, such as the Grammys. The recording academy, he noted, devotes considerable time and research to the nomination and voting process. The number of awards that have sprung up in the Grammy's wake have capitalized on the recording academy's efforts, he said.

Many in the awards business, though, say it's the very nature of the Grammys that has brought about the rise of competing shows.

"The Grammys is absolutely the show that is most meaningful and important to anyone in the music business," said Al Schwartz, who for the past 14 years has produced the American Music Awards for Dick Clark Productions and also produces the Academy of Country Music's show and the MTV awards show.

"But the Grammys have a terrible job. They have to cover areas that aren't necessarily as popular with the public. We have an advantage that we can concentrate on the things the public is familiar with."

The Grammys' inability to devote much time to any one area of music was also cited by the people behind the new International Rock Awards as the genesis of their show.

"The Grammys don't really recognize rock," said John Hamlin, ABC-TV vice president of special programs, who is overseeing the upcoming telecast of the International Rock Awards. "So that's why we're doing this show."

But the recording academy's Greene said the trend toward specialized awards shows makes the Grammys' broad spectrum more important than ever.

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