What's Next for the Canceled Golden Globes and Can the HFPA Recover?

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What’s Next for the Canceled Golden Globes and Can the HFPA Recover?

The Golden Globes crisis over the embattled Hollywood Foreign Press Association peaked early this week, with NBC cancelling the 2022 awards telecast under the crushing pressure of a streamer and studio boycott, leaving the organization with precious few options for survival.

Among the many questions left by NBC’s cancellation of the telecast were: Can the HFPA take its 2022 broadcast to another network? If not, would the HFPA decide to hand out awards anyway? Does NBC still owe the association the contractual $60 million for the telecast? And would the activist groups pushing for to boycott the group over a history of no Black members and a tarnished public reputation stand down to allow the group to implement a reform plan?

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Lawyers with expertise in entertainment contracts told TheWrap that the HFPA most likely won’t be able to take its 2022 show elsewhere — though the exact language of the contract is not publicly known.

“Whether the HFPA can go elsewhere is determined by the contract,” Dina Perez, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles, told TheWrap. “Regardless, it seems like there’s a lot of support among the heavy hitters to not do business with the HFPA until it does an overhaul and is more inclusive. It’s likely that HFPA may not get a deal elsewhere even assuming it was free to do so.”

Indeed, most major studios and streamers have said they won’t work with the group until substantial reforms have been made. Scarlett Johansson on Saturday called for stepping back, saying she “has often” faced “sexist questions and remarks by certain HFPA members that bordered on sexual harassment,” and Tom Cruise returned his three statues on Monday. The HFPA has been under fire since it was revealed that the group did not have any Black members and allegations of rampant self-dealing were revealed.

The annual awards show has been airing on NBC for decades, with Dick Clark Productions producing the show and holding partial ownership as well. According to tax filings, NBCUniversal is paying the HFPA nearly $60 million a year to televise the show through 2026. Standard Media Index data showed the network grossed $33.8 million in ad revenue for the 2021 show, down 26% from the previous year.

Representatives for the HFPA, Dick Clark Productions and NBC did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on this story.

Because of the fixed price and term of the deal, NBC will most likely be able to call the shots, Schuyler Moore, partner at Greenberg Glusker, said. “If that’s the case, they wouldn’t be able to show it elsewhere,” he said. “If NBC says there is no show, then that’s the likely outcome. I don’t think anyone will touch this with a 10-foot pole until they get their act together.” 

NBC would still owe the HFPA and DCP contractually agreed upon $60 million, he said, unless NBC would make an argument of Force Majeure or what’s called a Frustration of Purpose, both of which are very hard to argue unless the fundamental facts of the agreement have changed. If there is a fixed price, he said, NBC would have to pay — and on a show that has been losing money in recent years given the collapse of awards-show viewership and ad dollars.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC said, We’ll make a deal and we’ll either reduce what we pay you and you can take it elsewhere or even say we’re not going to pay you on the basis that you have breached your behavior,” Moore said.

An executive with a rival broadcast network person said he did not believe it would be possible for another network to swoop in.

Jordan Matthews, a litigation attorney and a partner with Weinberg Gonser in Los Angeles, added that while he is not familiar with the exact contract, most broadcast rights deals have standard language around cancellation. “I don’t think they’ll be able to go to another network and say this is our current deal, will you match it, because 1) there are probably confidentiality issues and 2) there are multiple parties involved,” he told TheWrap. “It’s worth considering that any other network that will come to play will have an opportunity to name their price, but I don’t think anyone will touch it until there are aggressive changes made to the HFPA.”

Shortly after NBC said it would not air the 2022 awards show on Monday, the HFPA released a timeline through this summer for implementing promised reforms.

The timetable came just after Netflix, Amazon and then WarnerMedia announced they would indefinitely suspend involvement with the HFPA until sufficient change in the organization’s membership demographics and operating protocols had been instituted.

But with no telecast, will there also be no awards? One individual close to the organization said the group is probably going to take a year off from the awards race completely. A spokesperson for the HFPA said the group is “completely focused on putting in the work and demonstrating its commitment to reform and structural change,” with no mention of options for moving forward with awards this year.

Of course, the group could nominate and choose winners internally and announced it via press release with no ceremony. A lot of other critics groups do it that way, after all.

But then there’s also the timing. It’s now May — the trophies are typically handed out in eight months, in early January. Before that, there would be months of press conferences and campaigning. Press conferences with HFPA members are important elements in raising awareness of movies and TV shows among the clubby group of foreign journalists who vote for the annual Golden Globe awards. In March, TheWrap reported that the organization denied requests to hold press conferences for three major projects with Black-led casts in recent years, including “Bridgerton,” “Girls Trip” and “Queen & Slim.”

The group has pledged to add at least 20 new members by the first week of August, as well as elect a new board and install new outside chief executives — but is that enough time to increase and diversify membership in a meaningful and responsible way before all of the awards campaigning traditionally begins? After all, NBC cited the time constraints in its statement about not airing the 2022 Golden Globes.

“We continue to believe that the HFPA is committed to meaningful reform. However, change of this magnitude takes time and work, and we feel strongly that the HFPA needs time to do it right,” the company said in a statement. “Assuming the organization executes on its plan, we are hopeful we will be in a position to air the show in January 2023.”

It seems possible that new members would have time to see new movies if they attend film festivals and screenings in the fall outside of special screenings and press conferences organized for HFPA members, as has been done in the past. However, the majority of Globes voters would still be existing HFPA members. This seems unacceptable for the Hollywood publicists, Time’s Up and other groups who have spoken out. The group currently has 85 members and has committed to adding at least 50% new members, with half of those coming from underrepresented groups.

Beatrice Verhoeven

Tony Maglio