The Golden Globes' Long Walk to Respectability

The awards competition with a quirky history that dates to the 1940s moves forward Jan. 8 with Jimmy Fallon as host.

January brings the 74th Golden Globes. The month also marks the 35th anniversary of perhaps the awards competition's most dubious moment: Pia Zadora's 1982 “new star of the year” win for the critically eviscerated "Butterfly."

The incest-themed, pseudo-erotic misfire of a film was bankrolled by Zadora's much older, rich husband, who, some suggested at the time, also exerted undue influence on her baffling Globes honor.

The misadventure for years epitomized an awards ceremony largely viewed as a Hollywood quirk – a gathering only mentioned in the same breath as the Oscars with a huff of derision.

The Globes, though, rose to a new level of prominence this decade. Ricky Gervais tackled hosting duties in 2010, beer in hand, and gleefully insulted stars with lines like, "I like a drink as much as the next man – unless the next man is Mel Gibson." 

Gervais bookended three turns by the team of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who proved slightly less caustic but equally irreverent. "Only at the Golden Globes do the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the rat-faced people of television,” Poehler noted in 2013.

Now Jimmy Fallon arrives to host the Jan. 8 broadcast on NBC, with an opportunity add his own spin to the Globes' long and elliptical history.

The Globes got off to a modest start in 1944 as a creation of the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association, which later morphed into the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The ceremony expanded its appeal by adding TV categories in 1957, but didn't earn a national television berth for another seven years.

NBC dumped the Globes from 1968 to 1974 after the FCC declared viewers were misled over the judging process. For years after the Globes' TV return, the broadcast rarely garnered major notice – save for oddities like the Zadora flap and Renee Zellweger ending up in the bathroom when her best actress award was announced in 2001. That seemed apt for a slapdash, usually host-free affair enjoyed more by the celebrities partying in the audience than the folks watching from home.

The tenor of the Globes changed with Gervais' debut, which rankled some stars and got laughs from viewers. The growing role of the ceremony as an Oscars prognosticator – Globes winners for best drama or best musical/comedy mirrored subsequent Academy Award Best Picture picks three out of the last five years – helped boost the draw. So did the growing pull of honors for high-quality television programs.

The Academy Awards, while still ratings champ, has struggled to match the excitement Hollywood's biggest night generated in years past. As previously noted, some hosting choices – James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Seth MacFarlane and Neil Patrick Harris – apparently aimed at generating buzz largely fell flat.

ABC recently tapped its late night star Jimmy Kimmel to host the next Academy Awards, which air Feb. 26. His weeknight rival, "Tonight Show" host Fallon, gets a six-week head start by hosting the Globes. Fallon, who generally plays nice with the stars, seems likely to reduce the Gervais-inspired snark quotient of recent years.

But, as history shows, you never know what the Golden Globes will bring.

Just ask Zadora, who reinvented herself as a musical performer. Yet she knows the Globes loom large in her career. The first three words on her website bio are "Golden Globe winner."

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

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