The last time Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes, back in 2012, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association promised “never again.” After three years of cutting quips from the saucy and seemingly sauced Gervais, the HFPA went a tad kinder and gentler, enlisting the services of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
Yes, that dynamic duo of “SNL” vets took their shots at Hollywood royalty, but they kept them above the belt and away from the HFPA. Gervais, on the other hand, had thought nothing of taking his humor into the nether regions of Jodie Foster, the Church of Scientology — and for good measure, working blue about the HFPA chairman.
Apparently, it’s time for a return to old form — and understandably so. Gervais’ leave-no-sacred-cow-unbutchered approach to the Globes is why he’ll be back as the show’s MC Jan. 10 on NBC. In a cacophonous TV Everywhere universe, it's a bad idea to ever say never when it comes to an edgy bad boy or gal such as Gervais, who is libel (sic) to say anything for a funny, tweetable line that will cut through the noise — unless by “noise,” you mean the sound of multiple mouse clicks.
Gervais on the Globes is like Donald Trump at a GOP presidential debate, a madman who demands our attention, because he will inevitably be Topic A and thus that most welcome of network entities: the DVR-proof commodity. He’ll be drinking, and then launching verbal Molotov cocktails. With a madman, there’s guaranteed to be at least one “reveal” — and, just as importantly, there will be the clippable moments that will litter Facebook, Twitter and YouTube long after the final acceptance speech of the night. (All this comes, of course, with one important caveat: that the Brit Wit hosting the Globes, godfather of the “Office” franchise, will be smart and wickedly funny.)
It follows in a TV Everywhere ecosystem that a week before the Gervais/Globes announcement, Chris Rock accepted the host gig for the next Academy Awards. Rock got mixed reviews almost a decade ago for his first Oscar stint, but a lot has changed since then. He will play a tad more within the lines than Gervais at the Globes, which is now perhaps the only competitive live event where juicing seems to be a welcome thing. Still, Rock can be expected to push into blue and politically incorrect territory more than the majority of the hosts in the last several years such as Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, or the mix of James Franco and Anne Hathaway: a trainwreck combo more frightening than most of the “Saw” movies.
But that’s the point: Safe showbiz icons don't work on these iconic awards shows anymore. In an era long, long ago, before the DVR, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, you could get away with a schmaltzy Billy Crystal, who, in the showbiz tradition of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, hosted the Oscars multiple times. In 2013, the Oscars thought they could have edgy with a schmear of schmaltz and enlisted “Ted” and “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane, who has a semi-launched career as a Frank Sinatra wannabe. What the Oscars ended up with was a guy who wasn't a particularly good stand-up, and certainly no Harry Connick, Jr. in the lounge act department.
Rock at the Oscars and Gervais at the Globes makes sense. We are way beyond vanilla hosts. Live events that attract the masses are a scarce win-win, and middle-of-the-road simply doesn't cut it. The folks mindful of the bottom line know that controversy is good box office. “What will he say? What will he do? We can’t wait to find out, and we are so happy that he’s back!,” said Barry Adelman, executive vice president of television for Dick Clark Productions and executive producer of the 73rd Golden Globes, in a press release announcing Gervais’ return.
I don't know if the suits at Dick Clark or NBC will be doing damage control or the Snoopy Dance post-Globes. Likewise for their counterparts at ABC post-Oscars. My guess is, they will be doing a bit of both — all the way to the bank.