Without the quips between celebrity presenters, inside jokes about the entertainment industry and skits that poke fun at stars behaving badly, awards shows would be little more than shiny trophies and long lists of names.
That could be the case for some of the shows in Hollywood’s fabled awards season this year if the Writers Guild of America remains on strike for several months.
Things get under way Sunday with the American Music Awards, which will air live on ABC. The script was written before the strike began last week, but without writers to make revisions, it won’t include any topical quips from host Jimmy Kimmel.
“We were aware of the impending WGA strike and planned accordingly,” said producer Larry Klein in a statement.
They were also lucky to be the first out of the gate.
December is nominations month — and therefore writing time — for the Grammys, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, with the Oscars nominations coming Jan. 22.
People behind awards shows say it’s too soon to say how the strike will affect their programs, but they’re likely to feel the pinch when nominations are announced. That’s because writing typically begins once the nominees are known, said Ken Ehrlich, who has produced more than a dozen Grammy and Emmy shows.
“With the Grammys, it comes down to who’s performing on the show. Same thing with the Emmys; it depends on who you’re going to book to present,” he said. “It can’t really be canned because it’s got to be tailored to the people who are saying it.”
Feel free to ad-libDuring the writers strike of 1988, the Oscars still went on — but that situation was different from today. Back then, the show’s script had been written before the strike began and remained essentially unchanged throughout the telecast. Writers Guild members who appeared on the show were allowed to ad-lib, but were cautioned against writing any new material.
It would be impossible, though, for an Academy Awards script to have been written before the 2007 WGA strike began, as the year’s Oscar-qualifying films are still being released.
Spokeswoman Leslie Unger said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hasn’t even reached the planning stage yet. “Our show is a number of months off and we have no way of knowing if or how (the strike) will impact us,” she said.
It also may be difficult for the Academy Awards to “find people who will perform on the show who aren’t members of the Writers Guild,” said veteran writer Bruce Vilanch, who has worked on the Academy Awards for the past 18 years. “Most standup performers write for themselves and when they have shows, they get a writing credit.”
Nominees for the Golden Globe Awards will be revealed Dec. 13, and the script begins the following day, said executive producer Barry Adelman.
“We’re hopeful the issues pertaining to the ... strike will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction before then,” he said in a statement. “We intend to explore all of our available options in the upcoming weeks.”
‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage’
Some shows employ a dozen or more writers, Vilanch said, with starting “a couple months” before showtime and continuing until the final curtain falls.
“You’re responding to what happens during the course of the show, so there’s writing going on all evening long,” he said, adding that nearly every part of the program is the work of the writers — “anything basically except an acceptance speech.”
“If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage,” he said. “The contribution the writers make is the same contribution every other creative element makes. It’s important.”
The Screen Actors Guild could find itself writer-less, too. Nominees will be announced Dec. 20, and “the majority of writing is done after we have the nominations announcement,” said spokeswoman Rosalind Jarret.
Jon Stewart, whose “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” on Comedy Central has been in reruns since the strike began, had no comment on how it might affect his duties as host of the 80th Academy Awards.
Even the Writers Guild is unsure about the strike’s impact on the upcoming awards season.
“Many of the awards shows are written under WGA contracts,” said spokesman Neal Sacharow, “and how the strike will affect those shows remains to be seen.”
However, Vilanch is sure of one thing: Awards shows would be dull without writers.
“There might be a show where people just kind of come out and read the names and give the awards, and in between you have some lovely production numbers,” he said. “I bet choreographers are just champing at the bit.”