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A starless, lusterless night for Hollywood

January 14, 2008|John Horn and Matea Gold | Times Staff Writers

The Writers Guild of America strike has decimated prime-time television and even forced some late-night talk show hosts to come up with their own jokes. But never in its 10-week duration has the labor dispute yielded as bizarre -- and, in a way, as symbolic -- an event as Sunday night's Golden Globes.

What is typically a glitzy and jokey awards dinner populated by Hollywood's top performers and executives was transformed by the strike into a cheerless news conference playing to a largely empty ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Rather than watch Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett and Daniel Day-Lewis walk the red carpet and hoist their statuettes, viewers -- who could watch the lack of festivities in a number of different television iterations -- instead saw little more than entertainment news personalities quickly opening envelopes to the weakest smattering of off-screen applause from Globe voters and the publicists.

Given the format of the strike-diminished event, winners were unable to deliver the traditional back-slapping acceptance remarks. Instead, they offered wry, almost philosophical reactions to the curious role the Globes played in this season's labor standoff.

"It is very strange and probably as strange as movies would be without scripts," said director Brad Bird, whose "Ratatouille" won the Golden Globe for best animated film.

Filmmaker Julian Schnabel, who was awarded Globes for best director and foreign language film for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," heard his name called not from inside the hotel's ballroom but at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. "I loved standing there in baggage claim watching on TV," Schnabel said.

For years, the Globes have been dismissed as peculiar even by show business standards -- a loopy cocktail party with sometimes off-the-wall picks presented by the 82 foreign journalists who make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. But the ceremony has nevertheless found its perch in awards-obsessed Hollywood and grown into a television hit, bringing NBC as much as $20 million in annual advertising revenue.

But striking screenwriters refused to give this year's Golden Globes ceremony a waiver for its writing staff, and the Screen Actors Guild said it would honor any WGA show pickets. Facing a celebrity-free evening, NBC, the association and producer Dick Clark Productions tried to work out a WGA compromise, but when the guild remained steadfast, the traditional awards show was scrapped.

In its virtual disappearance, though, the Golden Globes may never have been more prominent.

The show's cancellation proved that the WGA, especially in solidarity with SAG, can still wreak havoc over network television, even with a show such as the Golden Globes that is ostensibly unscripted.

Organizers of the Academy Awards are hopeful that they can reach an agreement with the WGA that would allow Feb. 24's Oscars show to proceed in its customary fashion, but the guild has made no indication that it will treat the ABC broadcast any differently than it did the Golden Globes.

"Everyone's a loser right now," said David Duchovny, who won best TV comedy actor for Showtime's "Californication." "The Golden Globes is a fun night -- it's more fun than the other awards shows. And it's too bad we didn't get to have fun. I don't think there are a lot of tears over it not being televised. But I think there are a lot of tears over people losing money and losing jobs."

In addition to "Ratatouille" and "Diving Bell," the association gave film awards to "Atonement" for best drama and "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" for top musical or comedy. On the television side, AMC's "Mad Men" won for best drama while HBO's "Extras" was named best comedy.

Richard Zanuck, who produced "Sweeney Todd," said he was elated with the award but, having watched the news conference with his grandchildren at his son's home, felt disheartened by its circumstances.

"Without casting blame, I'm getting to a point of outrage now," Zanuck said. "The damage is becoming more and more severe. Some people can never recover no matter how writers settle for themselves. When you think of it in those terms, you feel outrage at both sides. It has to end. You've got to have people with the courage to stand up and say we're not going to take it anymore."

With the ceremony canceled, "Atonement" producer Paul Webster joined some of his collaborators at a black-tie-optional party at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont.

"It's extremely disappointing," he said of the downsized show, "and if it can be a catalyst to the resolution of the labor dispute, all of us -- writers included -- sincerely hope it's a positive thing ultimately."

No new talks are scheduled between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining entity for the movie studios and television networks.

But the alliance and the Directors Guild of America did commence negotiating their pact Saturday, with the directors guild predicting a quick deal.

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