NBC's announcement Tuesday that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will host the next two Golden Globe telecasts doesn't just promise happy viewers and high ratings, it marks the end of a local rags-to-riches story: the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., like the heroine of an Edith Wharton novel, is now, officially, a member of power elite.
You gotta hand it to the HFPA; what it lacks in numbers and personal prestige, it more than makes up for in tenacity. Once an easy punch line among the mainstream entertainment media, the HFPA has methodically ratcheted up the X factor of the Golden Globes the last few years, leveraging its timing -- a few months before the Academy Awards -- to create a high-wattage oddsmaker.
Despite annual (though rapidly diminishing) grumbles from industry pundits and rumors of general awards-saturation, the Golden Globes, once known best for its wanton alcohol consumption now stands, in the public mind anyway, shoulder to shoulder with the Oscars.
With Fey and Poehler on board for two years, they may have actually taken the lead; it's difficult to imagine the Oscars coming up with a host that will trump the anticipation level accorded the two women, rapidly becoming the awards-show equivalent of Nichols and May.
More important, the deal certainly marks an awards-show savvy that continues elude the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and even, occasionally, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Producers cannot control who is nominated, who will win or what will be said.
But they can control the entertainment value of what happens in between. As Fey and Poehler have proved many times in many places, including last year's Golden Globes ceremony, they are very entertaining.
And when you've got a hit on your hands, you give it an extended run. Or, more appropriately, renew it for a new season.
Because what Fey and Poehler bring to the hosting gig that other talented comedians have not is an understanding of television. Live television. Which is different than scripted or even stand-up comedy.
Having cut their teeth, together, on "Saturday Night Live," Fey and Poehler know when to stay on script and when to improvise. They know how to play to the audience and to the camera, often at the same time. As the many talented performers who have fallen on various awards show stages over the years proved, hosting requires a specific and rarefied skill set.
For reasons known only to themselves, the film academy refuses to acknowledge this, year after year tossing the hosting hot potato into the hands of performers with little or no improv background, and widely diverse experiences with television. Why, for instance, Alec Baldwin hosted the 82nd Academy Awards with Steve Martin rather than with Fey, his television sparring partner, remains one of life's great mysteries.
Instead of recognizing and seeking out the specific experience required for success, producers of the various shows tend to imbue a successful host with magical qualities. "He's no Billy Crystal," ran the mantra for years, just as if Crystal did not have almost exactly the same kind of resume Fey and Poehler have, including a stint on "SNL."
Neil Patrick Harris, who earned his stripes hosting the Tonys, was similarly anointed and has been in such demand that he may be the first documented case of Post-hosting Stress Syndrome: His over-commitment was the running (and unfortunately flat) joke of this year's Emmys. Which he hosted.
By comparison Fey and Poehler are relatively fresh. They also represent the new and fabulous two-way status of the bridge between film and television, which makes them perfect for the Globes since both are celebrated.
Indeed, we can only hope that HFPA continues its groundbreaking strategy and uses this year's telecast to acknowledge the similar social ascendancy of television. Having branded itself as a predictor of the Oscars, the Globes inevitably treats its awards to television as an appetizer to the main course.
With conversations about shows as disparate as "Breaking Bad" and "Scandal" as loud and heated as any Oscar debate, the Globes should think about making an even bigger statement about the state of entertainment.
And they've got just the women to do it.
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