Kelsey Grammerand Laura Dern pose with their awards backstage. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
When it came to honoring television, the Golden Globes went small. Really small.
Some of the biggest winners at Sunday's Golden Globes were critically acclaimed cable shows that draw relatively tiny audiences — in some cases, far fewer than 1 million viewers per week. These included HBO's comedy "Enlightened," Starz's political drama "Boss," BBC America's crime thriller "Luther," and Showtime's show-biz comedy "Episodes."
Showtime's counterterrorism thriller "Homeland" — which won as drama series and for Claire Danes' turn as a troubled CIA agent — has set ratings records for the premium cable network. But it nevertheless draws fewer than 2 million viewers — a fraction of the ratings for a broadcast hit such as "NCIS," which typically draws more than 20 million.
The inevitable exception to the go-small trend came courtesy of "Modern Family," ABC's smash, which won for comedy series after losing to "Glee" for two straight years. "Modern Family" averaged roughly 12 million total viewers last season, according to Nielsen.
But for the most part, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which awards the Globes, chose to honor the little-watched, the prestigious or the foreign — or at least the last two, as in the case of the British period drama "Downton Abbey," which won in the miniseries category and has become a sensation for PBS.
In recent years, the Globes and the Emmys — much like the Oscars — have gravitated to niche fare and away from popular hits, which has led to complaints that the industry elite are increasingly fixated on esoteric programming and isolated from the preferences of most viewers.
Within the TV industry, the Globe choices are important because they can influence voters for the Emmy Awards, which are handed out in September, and also because they can help underperforming series get crucial exposure.
One genuine shocker came for Kelsey Grammer's win for "Boss," the well-received but little-seen political drama from Starz. The series opened to decent ratings — around 1.7 million watched the premiere in multiple airings — but the numbers have slid considerably since. The last time Grammer picked up a Globe, it was for his enormous NBC sitcom hit "Frasier."
In the same vein, Matt LeBlanc, winless after nominations for "Friends" and "Joey," won for Showtime's little-seen "Episodes" in which he plays ... Matt LeBlanc (or at least the TV version of the actor).
Another big surprise was Laura Dern's victory for actress in the comedy category, for HBO's "Enlightened." The show, which has both its ardent supporters and fervent detractors, has drawn minuscule ratings so far, with just 210,000 total viewers tuning in to the premiere and it was uncertain whether HBO would renew it for a second season (HBO did).
However, Dern, the daughter of actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, is a Globes favorite — she once served as Miss Golden Globes and previously won Globes for two HBO made-for-TV movies, "Recount" and "Afterburn."
As usual, some familiar faces found their way to the Globes stage, albeit in new work. Jessica Lange won for best supporting actress for FX's "American Horror Story." The actress has won five Globes. Kate Winslet took the miniseries actress prize for HBO's remake of "Mildred Pierce."
But a few actors went home with their first-ever Globes. Peter Dinklage won a supporting actor prize for HBO's fantasy epic "Game of Thrones," and Idris Elba won for an acting prize for playing the obsessive detective "Luther."