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The decline and fall of the People's Choice Awards

January 7, 2009 |  8:21 am

Although the People's Choice Awards commemorate its 35th anniversary tonight on CBS, there is little to celebrate about the tarnishing of these once-important kudos. Adding the new category of Favorite Scene-Stealing Guest Star may bring boffo ratings — as it did when nominee Britney Spears guested on "How I Met Your Mother" — but it won't earn these prizes any new respect. She competes against Luke Perry and Robin Williams, both nominated for appearing on "Law & Order: SVU."

Although Williams will be appearing on the kudocast as a presenter, it is unclear whether Spears will be at the Shrine Auditorium this evening. And Marc Malkin of E News reports that the buzzed-about appearance of Brad Pitt may just be "in a pre-taped segment. He was offered but apparently turned down the chance to be beamed in live via satellite, according to a source. As for Angelina Jolie, I’m told she declined both a taped and satellite segment." The PCAs are hosted once again by leading lady nominee Queen Latifah.


The reduced wattage of star power in contention and in attendance is attributable to the overall decline in these kudos in recent years. Yes, they added a new, sensational race for TV Drama Diva, but then failed to nominate Emmy winner Glenn Close ("Damages"). As Bob Sassone wrote about the TV contenders over on TV Squad: "The list of nominees is the very definition of unexciting." He cited the exclusion of such buzzed-about shows as Emmy champ "Mad Men" and "Dexter" for the likes of "CSI."

And the movie contenders are not much better. Although "The Dark Knight" competes in several races, as do "The Secret Life of Bees", "Iron Man," and "Mamma Mia!" there is little else in the way of serious awards fare. That shift in focus for these kudos began five years ago. Until 2004, winners were determined by a Gallup poll of everyday Americans. Not surprisingly, over those first three decades of the PCAs, the people often went with populist choices like "E.T." for best picture. However, many Oscarologists consider that film's loss to "Gandhi" at the 1982 awardsfest as one of the academy's biggest goofs.

And there were years when the People's Choice for a best picture prize (they have two or three in some years, just one in others) coincided with those of Oscar voters. Indeed, "The Sting" was picked as the very first People's Choice weeks before its upset win at the 1974 Oscars. Since then, the two kudos lined up for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1976); "Rain Man" (1988); "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991); "Forrest Gump" (1994); and "Titanic" (1997). And when they disagreed, it was over equally worthy movies — such as "Star Wars" versus "Annie Hall" in 1977 — and the alternative points of view were refreshing.

In 2005, PCA voting was changed to a much less expensive — and far less scientific — means of opinion-gathering. An Internet research company taps a sample number of pop culture fans to choose the nominees, then voting is thrown open to all Internet users who wish to register their opinions online at Under this new and unimproved system, the first winner for best picture was "Fahrenheit 9/11." Although it was arguably a worthy contender, such a polarizing pic never would have won using the old Gallup Poll method. Which raises the question: Was it really the people's choice? No. It was the choice of the people who dominate cyberspace: young men, who, biologically speaking, have a hormonal need to rebel against authority.

Producers of the kudocast loved that result because it made for great TV, especially when they had the trophy bestowed on Michael Moore by TV's liberal president, Martin Sheen of "The West Wing." Moore was so excited about receiving the honor that, when producers tipped him off ahead of time, he ditched plans to attend the award gala of the New York Film Critics Circle, which was held the same weekend on a different coast. After all, the critics only planned to give him a trophy for best nonfiction film. Moore ended up sending a stand-in who's never been shy about accepting awards: Harvey Weinstein.

Photo credit: CBS