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Things Are Looking Festive

And still, the awards shows continue. On this week's schedule: the Tony, Essence and MTV Movie celebrations.


There is no such thing as an awards season on television anymore because there seems to be no end to the glitzy specials honoring movies, music, theater, television, sports figures, the fashion industry, teachers, racial diversity--you name it.

This week alone, three vastly different awards shows will be telecast: CBS and PBS are home to the Tony Awards, which honor the best of Broadway theater; Fox has the Essence Awards, a noncompetitive ceremony that pays tribute to the accomplishments of African Americans; and MTV presents its irreverent anti-awards show, "The MTV Movie Awards."

The Tony Awards, now in their 25th year on CBS, are considered among the classiest due to their presentation of colorful musical numbers from nominated shows and the top Broadway talent they tap for hosts and presenters. This year, former Tony winners Bernadette Peters and Gregory Hines share emcee duty. The first hour airs on PBS, then CBS takes over for the final two.

Unlike the other two awards shows this week, the Tony Awards are done live, though broadcast-delayed on the West Coast. "This is the tightest of all the major awards shows," says veteran executive producer Gary Smith. "The rule is, you're off at 11." Having PBS carry the first 10 awards has been a big help in keeping to the strict 11 p.m. sign-off.

The two telecasts differ, Smith says, with PBS including mini-documentaries on such technical nominees as costume and lighting designers. "They give you the whole feeling of what the season has been like," he says, "so by the time we get to the Tonys on CBS, we have a nice hour insight into all that went on and it is not just the awards."

Smith acknowledges that the Tonys are never a ratings blockbuster. "I really believe the Tonys rating is the Tonys rating. It tends basically to be the same kind of rating every year. The ratings variation has less to do with the show and maybe more to do with what's up against it. If the Lakers happen to be against us, it will hurt the L.A. market."

Suzanne de Passe, an Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated producer-writer, is taking her first stab at producing the Essence Awards, which air Thursday on Fox. For the past two years, she's been executive producer of the NAACP Image Awards.

This year, the ceremony has moved from New York to the Universal Amphitheatre, although Steve Harvey is returning as host. The honorees, chosen by the editors of Essence, include Halle Berry, Terry McMillan, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Alicia Keyes.

De Passe believes an awards show should never wear out its welcome. "I consider the shelf life of an awards show slightly longer than a fish," she says, laughing. "After that, it starts stinking up the joint. It's s very tough to keep it exciting."

Going into his 10th year as producer and creator of the MTV Movie Awards, which also airs Thursday, Joel Gallen admits he has a love-hate relationship with the outrageous show that spoofs current hit movies and features such off-the-wall categories as best kiss and best villain. This year, actor-singer Jack Black and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" star Sarah Michelle Gellar are the co-hosts.

"I did it the first two years and then I swore I'd never come back," Gallen says. "I do a lot of other shows and projects and films, and I still feel every year I do the show it's my biggest challenge. I have over the years, though, stopped trying to put the pressure on myself that we have to top what we did last year."

The MTV awards are taped before an audience at the Shrine Auditorium five days before they're telecast. Gallen doesn't feel the show has suffered because it's never been telecast live.

"When I created the show, I always said this show should not be live because this is not really an awards show. It's an entertainment show, a comedy show. I think awards are important, and the fact that the celebrities come out to pick up their awards--that's all great. But to make it the whole package of what this show really represents, it's good to have a few extra days to add extra layers of comedy and entertainment."

"The First 10 Awards: Tonys 2002" can be seen Sunday at 8 p.m. on KCET, to be followed by the Tony Awards at 9 p.m. on CBS. The Essence Awards air Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox; and the MTV Movie Awards will air Thursday at 9 p.m. on MTV.

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