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In 1953, Audrey Hepburn won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a rebellious princess in "Roman Holiday." Undoubtedly thrilled to her shoes, Hepburn accepted her award before a buzzing, expectant audience by humbly remarking, "This is too much."

She had no idea.

If Hepburn were alive today, two things would be certain. First, she would be a leading candidate for any lifetime achievement award, since she would satisfy the primary requirement of being very, very old. And second, collecting all those lifetime achievement awards would kill her, since negotiating one's way through the current glut of award shows is not a task to be undertaken by anyone over the age of 45 -- and, even then, not without a note from a physician.

Whether the Billboard Music Awards, the Cable ACEs, or the American Comedy Awards (not to be confused with the American Television Awards, which fizzled out after a misguided attempt to embrace television of all forms, or the American Music Awards, which embraces all of Dick Clark's friends), it's time we faced an ugly truth: TV is ass-deep in award shows, and the muck is only rising. Want to see Sam Waterston butt heads yet again with a cantankerous judge on "Law & Order"? Sorry, it's been pre-empted for something called the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Eager to find out what those rapscallions on the "Real World" are up to? Tough, it's time for the MTV Awards, and all the glory they can bring. Got a jones for Gerald McRaney in "Promised Land"? Who doesn't? Not that it matters, though. Obviously you didn't check the date and time on your Grammy invitation.

In the vast firmament of televised award shows, no festival of self-flagellation stands taller than the Emmy Awards. Who can forget the sight of a victorious Faye Dunaway once bleating to an agreeable Emmy crowd, "This town has heart!" -- the proof of which apparently lay in its willingness to bestow upon Ms. Dunaway one of the shiny little trinkets. Styled a celebration of the best TV has to offer, the Emmys have the double whammy potential of not only promulgating their own awards, but awarding other award shows as well. The Academy Awards telecast, for instance, annually contends for an Emmy in the "Most Gratuitous Display of Self-Congratulatory Back-Slapping (Live)" category.

Indeed when it comes to Dunawayisms, Oscar's no slouch. Academy Award historians -- and people who just don't like "Steel Magnolias" -- will point to Sally Field's 1985 acceptance speech in which Field made the daring artistic choice to dispense with any semblance of humility. "I can't deny the fact that you like me!" she screeched to a stunned audience. "You like me!"

Others will note Laurence Olivier's 1979 speech for a lifetime achievement award (notice, he was old), in which Sir Larry babbled, "In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosities, this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it -- the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it -- must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little..."


Larry, you will recall, then went on to make "The Jazz Singer" with Neil Diamond.

Still others will point to Oscar's many political fiascos, from Marlon Brando sending Sacheen Littlefeather to pick up Brando's 1972 Oscar for "The Godfather," to Vanessa Redgrave denouncing "Zionist hoodlums," to Richard Gere endorsing the Dalai Lama's many social programs, to Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins decrying something that had absolutely nothing to do with fostering children out of wedlock.

(In all fairness, Oscar has had its moments -- like the time Robert Duvall was reduced to a fit of hysterics at the erroneous juxtaposition of Shelley Winters and "Fat City." Duvall, however, did suffer mightily for his transgressions; he later starred in "Days of Thunder.")

A fair question, I suppose, might be, Why are all these award shows televised? Certainly not because they make for good TV; nothing that involves rich, well-dressed would-be artisans thanking their agents makes for good TV. Nor is it because the shows are ratings demons. Be honest: Do you know anyone who has ever watched the People's Choice Awards? Nor is it because each award show has carved out a different niche. The Emmys award TV -- as do the Golden Globes, the People's Choice, the American Comedy Awards, the Cable ACEs, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Grammys award music -- as do the MTV Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, the American Music Awards, the TNN Music City News Country Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards, the Country Music Association Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards, and the highly coveted Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. The Oscars award film -- as do the Golden Globes, the People's Choice, the SAG awards, the Director's Guild awards, the MTV Awards, the American Comedy Awards, and the much-desired Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. Even daytime TV (the Daytime Television Awards and the Daytime Emmy Awards) and "colored people" (the Essence Awards, the NCLR Bravo Awards, and the N-double A-CP Image Awards) can claim double-dipping. In fact, of all the televised award shows, only the Tonys, for lavish Broadway musicals, and the ESPYs, ostensibly for sports "performances," can claim any sort of uniqueness. Which just goes to prove the cheese does stand alone.

Nor is it because award shows make us feel good about the way things are. Quite the opposite. Thanks to the MTV Awards, for instance, a number of tykes who only hoped to catch a glimpse of their favorite, tortured millionaire, Axl Rose, are still trying to come to grips with the sight of Howard Stern's hairy ass. Because Emmy counts among its previous victors "Picket Fences" and Craig T. Nelson for "Coach," millions of TV watchers have been forced to seriously rethink their commitment to a free and open society. And, really, how good can we possibly feel about anything that gives Cher a platform from which to speak or perpetuates the myth that Madonna can act?

That's a rhetorical question.

No, to understand why award shows are infesting our nation's TV sets like a plague of locusts, we must turn to the original non compos mentis herself. In the immortal (and I mean that literally) words of Shirley Maclaine after winning a best actress Oscar for "Terms of Endearment": "I deserve this!" Precisely.

Let's face it: Artists go to hell and back to bring us their genius. Movie stars toil in small, air-conditioned trailers for three, four, even five months at a time in weird, exotic locations to produce only the most authentic films--like "The Scarlet Letter." TV stars work long hours each day, seeking just the right pitch, the right tone for every line. And when that's done, they return to their lonely, isolated mansions, forced to cope with the crazed demands of a needy public. And musicians! Let's not even get started on musicians, grinding through long tours and living out of one sterile, albeit expensive, hotel after another, groupies and hangers-on hounding their every move.

The truth is these folks deserve a pat on the back -- if not from you or me (honest to God, I'd love to have Sly and the kids over one day for wieners and cake, but I just don't think they'd come), then, damn it, from themselves. And so the entertainment industry sets aside three, four months every year to give itself several big group hugs -- to say, "You know, notwithstanding the likes of 'Striptease,' 'Dweebs,' and Billy Corgan, we really aren't so bad."

Can we begrudge them that much? Were it not for Billy Corgan, I'd almost be inclined to say yes. Alas, however, young Mr. Corgan is still upright, and so I think a different sentiment is appropriate, one succinctly summed up by George C. Scott in a way that only the erstwhile star of "Patton" could. "The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade," he once said. "I don't want any part of it."

And he should know. He won an Oscar.


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