The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Variety's Peter Bart: Who stole our Oscar ads?

October 23, 2008 |  1:24 pm

Bart_3You have to hand it to Variety's venerable Peter Bart. He's been everything during his long tenure in Hollywood -- Variety editor, New York Times correspondent, studio executive (after the thousand columns he's written about his years of dealing with recalcitrant talent, how could we ever forget it?). So when he sees that the usual deluge of studio Oscar ads that normally plump up Variety this time of year are slowing to a trickle, thanks to our current economic debacle, he's far too smooth to call up his studio chief pals to complain. He simply writes a blog post about it.

Even better, Bart cleverly disguises the real motivation of the post. Instead of saying "Come on, guys, how about ponying up some dough for Oscar ads?" he preys on their worst fears: that by not taking out ads, they would go away from Academy Awards night empty-handed. Or as he puts it: "It's been proven that aggressive campaigns produce kudo nominations -- the constituencies of the Oscars and the Globes will be totally inundated by the rush of December pictures (roughly 45 in all)."

Translation: You better get those ads in now! Notice the way Bart slips in the expression "it's been proven." In fact, I'd defy Peter to show where there's "proof" that you can buy an Oscar nomination simply by buying a lot of ads. That might be the long-held conventional wisdom, but that's not the same as "proof." We'd probably all agree that by having a big movie star court the foreign press, you can help score a Golden Globe nomination, but ads alone don't buy bupkis.

As a showbiz vet, Bart knows that the best way to put pressure on belt-tightening studios is by cranking up the anxiety of the people who have their ears--the star talent and their stable of managers and agents. So he ends his post by insinuating that all this cost-cutting will leave a host of Oscar-worthy movies "hung out to dry." Actually, just the opposite would happen. If the studio conglomerates, who spend the most money on Oscar campaigns, all cut back their expenditures, it would actually level the playing field, making it more feasible for the tiny independents and Sony Classics of the world to compete for the top awards.

Because Peter is only interested in Oscar ad moola, he doesn't see it that way. He wants studio chiefs to be afraid -- very afraid -- that they could be the odd one out at Oscar time if they don't spend enough dough. Perhaps that's why he ends his post by asking the question "Is that austerity? Or does it represent a betrayal of the talent community?" Sorry, Peter, but bringing some sanity to the crazed Oscar ad spending spree isn't a betrayal. It would be a breath of fresh air.

Photo credit: AMC