With the Emmys, Met Ball and BETs behind us, and the next season of shows bearing down, there’s been a swath of articles discussing declining ratings and the potential death of the awards show. But while there’s been ample talk about the problem, very little has surfaced about potential solutions. I don’t claim to have the silver bullet, but in entering the chat, I’m moved to point out what I believe are the cultural shifts and opportunities.
The awards show, for most of its existence, has been about exclusivity and glamour. The audience tuned in passively to escape and watch the spectacle of red carpet gowns and wall-to-wall celebrities celebrating themselves. It became a tentpole moment, good or bad, and evolved to achieve network ratings and appeal to advertisers.
How utterly irrelevant that all seems now, and what a mess it’s created. The folks who are fondling the hammer(format, distribution, length, categories, etc.) are, I’m sure, trying their best, but what I’m advocating is that we rebuild the house from the ground up. Rather than constantly trying to aggregate the audience, lean into the fact that a linear tentpole media moment isn’t enough anymore.
To rebuild the award show, we’ve got to start with a new purpose: awards shows, at their core, really can and must be a celebration of great art and a summary of culturally defining and progressive moments. They must also become an immersive, inclusive experience, with a meta-world of development transparency where audiences can explore, connect and be part of the conversation -- up to and including actual collaboration.
From the full ecosystem of talent (“star + team”), their references and cultural statements associated with red-carpet fashion, to the making of a performance and the development of the show itself, we want to know and interact with it all, to find that piece of the puzzle that connects with our own identity.
And therein lies the cultural shift, because the wall between "them" and "us" is continually being broken, as is the need for manicured image perfection. We’re now more invested if we see ourselves and can feel part of the journey, because the ivory tower of obscene luxury is now irrelevant -- as evidenced by the vulgar egocentricity of recent Met Ball participants.
Of course, many celebrities already do some of this on their own feeds -- but what if those sneak peeks behind the scenes were all connected under the marquee award experience, before AND after the spectacle of the show? What if we were able to easily celebrate and potentially bring new ideas to ALL the people involved in bringing an award show moment to life in one connective space?
We want more transparency in understanding the voting process and who is actually voting, so that deserving and underrepresented artists are not shut out. Take that one step further, and there could be mandated, credible social justice advocates on every voting panel.
Finally, and most crucially, have this building of the show in public be visibly managed and produced by diverse professionals. Currently the majority of awards are currently produced by older, cisgender, straight white men who, while expert at production value, sadly seem to be heading down the path of Allan Carr and the notorious Rob Lowe Snow White opening segment at the 1989 Oscars.
In my mind, it all comes down to this: The scene that celebrates itself is dead. The scene that celebrates wins for identity, community and cultural progress that’s open to everyone is there for the taking.