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Strikebound, the Globes Scale Back: NYT

Are the Golden Globes, the annual movie and television awards given out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, really news?

They are now. In an attempt to engineer a workaround of a writers’ strike that is playing havoc with the awards season, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced Monday that the festive awards dinner would be replaced this Sunday night by a news conference to announce the prize winners — and would be covered exclusively by NBC News and print reporters.

There may be parties afterward for those who prevail, but the red-carpet black-tie alcohol-flowing celebration itself will not go on — brought down by the threat of pickets from striking writers’ guilds and a vow from the members from the Screen Actors Guildnot to cross the lines.

“We are all very disappointed that our traditional awards ceremony will not take place this year,” the press association’s president, Jorge Camara, said in a statement, “and that millions of viewers worldwide will be deprived of seeing many of their favorite stars.”

Jeff Hermanson, strike coordinator for the Writers Guild of America West, said it would not lift the picketing threat until it was certain that the event was not “going to be an awards show disguised as a news conference.” Mr. Hermanson said the guild was seeking that assurance in the form of a written promise from Dick Clark Productions, which usually produces the Golden Globes.

Asked what would distinguish a news conference from an awards show, he cited any presence by stars or televised red-carpet arrivals. He said the guild was in discussions about such a guarantee from Dick Clark Productions as of late Monday. A spokesman for that company said it had “absolutely nothing to do with the news conference announcing the Golden Globe awards."

Spokesmen for NBC and the association declined to discuss details of the decision, or the possibility that other programming — for instance, a “Dateline” special that had been planned on the nominees and an “Access Hollywood” kind of program looking in on celebrity parties — might be shown before or after the announcement.

The announcement of the new-look Golden Globes came after weeks of scrambling by NBC, the foreign press association and Dick Clark Productions to salvage the awards show.

At a time when the writers’ strike has shut down virtually all scripted television programming, forcing the networks to ration episodes of whatever dramas and comedies they have remaining and ratchet up the number of reality shows, the Golden Globes looked even more attractive to network executives.

Last year, 20 million people watched the ceremony. And published reports estimate advertising revenue from the Golden Globes to be around $10 million to $15 million in a normal year. NBC executives expect less from a truncated show; but the company will be spared the considerable spending for its annual Champagne event.

NBC is majority-owned by General Electricand is one of a handful of big corporations that have broken off negotiations toward a new contract with writers. The Writers Guild of America East and the Writers Guild of America West, whose more than 12,000 writers have been on strike since Nov. 5 in large part over new-media compensation, have been trying to force those companies back to the bargaining table.

The companies have said they will not return until the writers drop a number of proposals they view as unreasonable, including a demand for jurisdiction over writers for animated shows.

In the course of things, Dick Clark Productions was caught in the middle. It tried without success to get an independent agreement with writers, like the one obtained by David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants production company and the United Artists studio run by Tom Cruiseand Paula Wagner struck, but wound up squeezed out of the event.

In Los Angeles and New York, publicists, studio executives and journalists spent all of Monday sending rumors back and forth. This anxiousness had to do with the lateness of the hour. (A countdown clock ticking away on the press association’s Web site did not help to steady nerves.)

With less than a week to prepare, the Golden Globe nominees had very little time to plan their entry: Would they be dressing up and hitting the carpet, or watching a boilerplate news conference on television, with none of the glitter and ceremony that generally accompanies the ceremony? It is also unclear whether the glittering parties that normally accompany the Golden Globes -- many at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the ceremony is usually held — would go forward. A spokeswoman for HBO said it was canceling its party.

In any case, the decision to junk a festive part of Hollywood’s yearly awards ritual came as a shock to many of the usual players in the fun.

“It’s really lousy,” said Scott Rudin, a producer who has credits on “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men,” both of which have been nominated for the Golden Globes’ best drama award. He added, “A lot of us who make the kind of movies this group tends to reward have a lot of affection for them.”

In an unusual lobbying effort, a dozen Hollywood publicity agencies joined in a letter informing Jeff Zucker, chief executive of NBC Universal, that their clients would not cross picket lines to attend the Golden Globes.

Behind the scenes, Hollywood power players like Mr. Rudin and Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorksAnimation, had urged NBC executives to let go of this year’s broadcast, freeing the press association to proceed with a live ceremony that stars might attend without fear of pickets.

In the end, NBC held fast to its right to proceed with a broadcast, pushing the press association into a difficult choice between staging a show with empty seats — and perhaps damaging its credibility with the viewing audience for years — or simply dropping the event.

The association, a group of about 85 international entertainment journalists, last year received net income around $6 million from the ceremony’s network license fee, table sales and other receipts, according to statements filed with federal tax authorities. Much of that income, which has helped finance donations to film education and other programs, may evaporate with the stripped-down broadcast.

Attention will now turn to the Oscar ceremony, scheduled for broadcast on Feb. 24 by ABC, an event that is far more valuable to the industry. Whether the Oscars can proceed without a union confrontation has become an open question, assuming that the writers’ strike has not ended by then.

-- Michael Cieply reported from Los Angeles and David Carr from New York.