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Exploring televised awards shows

‘Award Show Awards Show’ takes snarky view of events

“The Award Show Awards Show,” which isn’t an awards show but a documentary, wants you to know there are 565 show-biz awards competitions each year, of which 100 are televised. That’s more than one broadcast every four days.

CONSIDER: On the heels of “The First Annual Spike TV Video Game Awards,” which aired Thursday, the coming week brings “The 14th Annual Billboard Music Awards” on Fox, “The Third Annual DVD Exclusive Awards” (whatever that is) on FX, and the inaugural Commie awards on Comedy Central going head-to-head with “The Award Show Awards Show,” which Trio is airing 9 p.m. EST Sunday.

Wide-ranging and snarky, the documentary expands on Andy Warhol’s prediction: Not only are you destined to be famous for 15 minutes, at this rate you’re also practically a shoo-in for a televised award.

But as Tatum O’Neal, the film’s award-winning narrator, points out, “Conflicts are endless when awards shows outnumber the works of art they are trying to honor.” Witness the juxtaposed clips of a program that wins both a Prism (for accurately portraying the dangers of drug abuse) and a Stony (for promoting the pot-smoking culture).

“The Award Show Awards Show” explores many facets of the media-celebrity complex.

It examines the monetary blessings realized from a top-drawer award like the Oscar or Grammy, and the fierce campaigning mounted by would-be nominees.

It exposes the driving force behind the awards-show pandemic, which mainly reflects outstanding achievement by the industry in ginning up ever more shows for viewers to watch — and thus ever more outlets for promoting entertainment product to the public.

It proposes ways to insure yourself a prize. (If you’re Susan Lucci, just keep showing up.)

MOCK AWARDS

From the lectern of a decades-old Oscar broadcast, Jimmy Stewart remarks on how seemingly “us folks out here in Hollywood spend most of our time just givin’ awards to each other. It’s amazing how any work gets done.”

“Awards shows,” says Alan Alda in a long-ago interview, “mainly publicize the people giving the awards.”

Not to be outdone, “The Award Show Awards Show” institutes its own mock prizes in such categories as Most Meaningless Awards Shows (a leading contender is the award show for infomercials) and Most Inexplicable Snubs: There was never an Emmy for Jackie Gleason, never so much as a Grammy nomination for the Who!

Where else could you learn that the wing-tips of the Emmy statuette are sharp enough to pierce the flesh of a careless recipient?

And who else could tell you why the carpet is red? As O’Neal explains, Hollywood borrowed it “from pre-colonial India, where rajahs chose the color red since it was the rarest, and thus most expensive dye.”

O’Neal, of course, brings special authority to the documentary. In 1974 she walked the red carpet as a 10-year-old Oscar nominee for best supporting actress in her first film, “Paper Moon.”

She even practiced weeks beforehand with her father and “Paper Moon” co-star, Ryan.

“He wanted me to rehearse,” she recalled in a recent chat with a reporter. “I remember him dressing me up and letting me wear platforms, which I always wanted to wear, and we pretended to walk down a red carpet.”

WHERE WERE HER PARENTS?

But on that April 2, when she became Oscar’s youngest-ever winner in a competitive category, neither parent was present. Her grandparents brought her.

“For years I didn’t think about it,” said O’Neal, 40. “Now, today, it makes me sad.

“Winning was a great honor,” she added. “But the truth is, I had no idea what Oscar meant. I just knew there was a lot of people and it was gonna be a long time that I was sitting in that seat.”

O’Neal has since come to appreciate the higher meaning of the Academy Awards, just as she can identify with the twisted yearnings that keep an audience glued to even the lamest awards telecast.

“The more awards shows, with their red carpets and glitz, the more chances for ordinary people to get out of themselves,” she said. “It’s a sort of celebrity royalty that we love and hate. We can feel happy when they win, and when they lose we can put them down and feel better being average people.

“We love to see them dress up — but what we really want is to see them (screw) up.”

And as she observes in “The Award Show Awards Show,” the hucksterism underlying every awards show is just the viewer’s price of admission.© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.