The Report: Ricky Gervais — The Fallout
Before hosting the 68th annual Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 16, Ricky Gervais vowed to come out “guns blazing, like it’s the end of the world.” He might get his wish, at least when it comes to hosting Hollywood awards shows. The British comedian’s ruthless skewering — he trashed Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie for The Tourist, introduced Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad” and suggested that two prominent (though unnamed) Scientologists are gay — angered top talent and left the typically celebrity-friendly Hollywood Foreign Press Association feeling blindsided.
“He definitely crossed the line, and some of the things were totally unacceptable,” HFPA president Philip Berk tells The Hollywood Reporter. “But that’s Ricky.”
Gervais didn’t wait for the HFPA to decide whether to invite him back, saying Jan. 18 that “twice is enough” and “I’m not going to do it again.” But as the fallout from his performance dominated media coverage of the Globes, the HFPA began taking careful steps to mend its relationship with the A-listers that fuel its awards show.
The 90-odd member group issued a statement that read: “We loved the show. It was a lot of fun and obviously has a lot of people talking. When you hire a comedian like Ricky Gervais, one expects in-your-face, sometimes outrageous material.”
But at the same time, the organization took pains not to endorse Gervais’ comments: “Certainly, in this case, he pushed the envelope and occasionally went too far. The HFPA would never condone some of his personal remarks.”
The group notably did not comment on Gervais’ jibes against the HFPA itself. He accused the group of taking bribes for Globe nominations and introduced Berk by saying: “I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in. It was messy.”
Says former HFPA president Helmut Voss, “He made the mistake of confusing an awards show with a roast.”
The comments came at a particularly sensitive time for the HFPA, which is fighting in court with Globes producer Dick Clark Prods. and negotiating a new deal with NBC to air the show. It also was sued Jan. 13 by its former publicist, Michael Russell, who claims that the HFPA is a corrupt organization that accepts “payola” in return for Globe noms. (The HFPA strongly denies the allegations.)
No advertiser complaints were registered against NBC, which saw ratings stay virtually the same as last year. Nobody at the network, the HFPA or Dick Clark Prods. reviewed Gervais’ comments in advance of the show.
“That’s not how Ricky works,” Berk says. “I had absolutely no idea what Ricky was going to say.”
And even though Globes presenter Robert Downey Jr. called Gervais “mean-spirited,” a cavalcade of insiders have come to his defense. “I thought he was just perfect,” Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh says. “If we take ourselves too seriously, then what are we doing here?”
The real winner? Gervais, who actually might experience a career boost from the attention. The comedian, who earned cachet and millions of dollars from creating the British version of The Office, has disappointed in film endeavors like The Invention of Lying and currently stars in an animated series on HBO. Recent Emmy hosts Jimmy Fallon and Neil Patrick Harris translated their buzzworthy awards-hosting gigs into bigger audiences. And Chris Rock and David Letterman, criticized for acerbic performances on the Oscars and not invited back, didn’t take career hits from the rejection. “I can see a cable channel offering Ricky a show,” TV author David Thomson says.
And Hollywood can breathe easier with James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting the Oscars. Jokes a veteran producer, “Try to think of James and Anne skewering anybody.”
-- Bryan Alexander, Bill Higgins and Kim Masters contributed.
GLOBES RATINGS STEADY: Viewers by year
- 2011: 17 million
- 2010: 17 million
- 2009: 15 million
- 2008: 6 million*
- 2007: 20 million
Source: Nielsen, Live+SD
* Crippled by WGA strike