Hollywood Film Awards Preview: Show Aims for "Off-the-Cuff" Vibe in First Network TV Broadcast

Alberto E. Rodriguez
Sandra Bullock at last year's HFAs

"I watched last year when Julia Roberts took her shoes off," says CBS' Jack Sussman. "We want that vibe"

This story first appeared in the Nov. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

ABC has the Oscars. NBC has the Golden Globes. And now, this year, CBS finally has its own movie-stars-on-a- red-carpet extravaganza: the Hollywood Film Awards, which makes its network TV debut Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. (live at 5 p.m. on the East Coast). Question is, are the HFAs ready for primetime?

For 17 years as a nontelevised event, the HFAs has built a reputation as one of the more loosey-goosey celebrity get-togethers, less structured and disciplined than those other well-oiled awards shows. The speeches tend to be saltier and can drag on forever. The attire, while black tie, is more relaxed than at the Oscars or Globes. At times, it even seems to be optional (last year, Julia Roberts took off her sandals and held them in her hands when she got to the podium). Obviously, some changes will need to be made before the show hits the screen.

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"We're still very much trying to maintain that feeling of casualness," says Mark Bracco, executive vp programming and development for Dick Clark Productions, which is producing and part owner of the show (and which shares a common parent company with THR). To foster that feeling, the HFAs will be held at the Hollywood Palladium, with table settings and free-flowing cocktails during the ceremony. "We want people to feel [the stars] are relaxed and in a room with their friends, where they can be more off-the-cuff."

"I watched last year when Julia Roberts took her shoes off," agrees Jack Sussman, CBS executive vp specials, music and live events. "We want that vibe."

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That said, winners won't be announced in advance, as has been the custom in previous years. In order to build TV-style suspense, only the names of the celebrities in attendance are being revealed (Ben Affleck, Steve Carell, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr., among others). In previous years, there wasn't always a host — stars would simply introduce one another — but this time, Queen Latifah has been anointed master of ceremonies. The number of trophies being handed out has shrunk to 18, the most that can be squeezed into a two-hour show (below-the-line awards will be webcast).

How the awards are chosen, though — given that so few of the honored films have been released or even seen on screeners this early in the season — will remain as mysterious a process as ever. Hollywood Film Awards winners are picked by founder Carlos de Abreu along with his industry advisory board (whose members are never revealed, ostensibly so that they won't be influenced). But its producers insist it's all on the up and up. "We're not doing 'Give the award to Pia Zadora because her husband is Meshulam Riklis,' " says Sussman, referring to Zadora's notorious 1982 Golden Globe win for Butterfly. "We're working with industry insiders." The proof that the choices are valid, adds Bracco, is in how many past HFA winners later earned Academy Awards. "Last year Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey all won," he says, "and then went on to win Oscars." Clearly CBS is throwing its full weight behind the event; Les Moonves will be attending and is bringing CBS This Morning to L.A. to cover it.

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It's certainly the earliest awards show — which is largely the point. The producers have even trademarked HFAs' tagline: "The official launch of the awards season." Bracco thinks being first gives the show a competitive advantage. "By the end of awards season, you've heard these speeches more than once," he says. "This really is the first you're going to see people from the biggest movies during Oscar season."

THE AFTERPARTY AT THE W HOTEL

This year, The Hollywood Reporter's Janice Min and Scott Feinberg, awards analyst, will co-host the show's first invitation-only afterparty, where 500 guests will dine and toast the evening's winners at the W Loft atop the hotel. A red carpet will connect the Palladium to the event space.

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