In the American performing arts, there must (of course) be victors. It is not enough that we recognize talent through the power of our credit-card purchases–no, we must reaffirm our love of the successful by officially deeming them "the best" in their chosen fields. And there is simply no better way of doing this than by broadcasting a red-carpet spectacle with singing, dancing, comedy, and evening-gown-attired stage hostesses with artificially enlarged breasts. It is an American tradition. While award shows were once simple to keep track of–Oscars for movies, Grammys for music, Emmys for TV, Tonys for theater, and Golden Globes for Jack Nicholson–we are now inundated by torrents of televised award ceremonies. First, there are the "lesser" awards in the established genres, such as those for music: the American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Country Music Association Awards, Soul Train Awards, The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards, etc. (Subgroup: lesser award shows that nobody actually wants to watch on TV: the S.A.G. Awards, the Movieline Young Hollywood Awards, the TV Guide Awards, the American Film Institute Awards, etc.) Then there are the self-invented "new" genres of award shows, such as the ESPY Awards for athletes and GQ's "Men of the Year " Awards for men who, uh, succeeded at becoming rich and famous. Finally, there are the cable-network award shows that double as award-show parodies: the MTV Video Music Awards, MTV Movie Awards, My VH1 Music Awards, VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, TV Land Awards, Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards, etc. Some of these aforementioned programs are so spirit-crushingly awful that you would think there could not possibly be any worse ones. But leave it to corporate executives to devise award shows that are blatantly void of meaning, yet still believe they're legitimate enterprises that actually matter.

The Blockbuster Entertainment Awards

Launched in 1995, the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards have already faded from our collective memory–as well as from the Blockbuster website, which doesn't even list the auspicious winners on its award-winning-movies page. Nevertheless, for six breathtaking years, we were entreated to bask in the reflected glory of those lucky enough to win a Blockbuster Entertainment Award. While the show appears to have vanished after the 2001 ceremony, it attains its Bottom 5 standing through pure insidiousness. Blockbuster is owned by Viacom Inc., which also owns Paramount Pictures & Television, CBS, VH1, MTV, Showtime, and UPN–which aired the program. So, in effect, Viacom started an awards show that inevitably honored some of its own productions. Of course, the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards were voted upon by the general public–or at least those members of the general public who rented their videos at Blockbuster. Why did Blockbuster executives think that their awards show was "extremely well positioned to gauge America's popular entertainment tastes," and why did they think that this was necessary? We will perhaps never know. Like a lost civilization whose once-vibrant cities have been swallowed by the jungle, nearly all remnants of the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards have disappeared from the Internet, leaving behind only a mystery: How did they last so long?

 

The People's Choice Awards

The trailblazer of ersatz award-giving for the sake of award-giving is The People's Choice Awards, which first aired on CBS in 1978 and steadfastly refuses to go away. As the show's name indicates, the public decides the winners rather than judges or academy members. The fearless Gallup Organization polls the nation's citizenry to find out who is, for instance, "The Favorite Motion Picture Star in a Comedy." (Regular ol' actors need not apply.) This ensures that only the blandest, most crowd-pleasing performers win year after year: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Garth Brooks, the cast of Friends, etc. You might think that such complete predictability and lack of real competition might render the show superfluous, but not in the eyes of its organizers who patriotically believe that their award show is "the premier venue for the American people to honor their favorite performers, television shows, and motion pictures." (Didn't the public already do so by gracing these performers with the ratings and box-office that allowed them to become millionaires?) Furthermore, "the show is a platform for the winners to express their thanks and appreciation to those who love and support their performances…" (Couldn't they just do that by lowering their ticket, CD, or DVD prices?) Thus, we can rest assured that as long as she is alive, Jennifer Aniston will never lack an annual ego boost.

 

The Teen Choice Awards

As corporate executives know all too well, teenagers represent a powerful and terrifying buying force. While expert "cool hunters" around the country charge their big-business clients millions of dollars to tell them what kids like, some brilliant marketer somewhere came up with the singular idea of asking teenagers directly and then airing the results. Surprise: Teenagers like celebrities! Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher, Adam Sandler–fear not, you will always have a trophy waiting for you at the Teen Choice Awards. The award categories are not terribly different from any other awards show (except for the Miscellaneous division, which includes items like "Choice Female Hottie"), but things are askew in the Television division. Out of its 22 categories, almost half are devoted to "reality" TV, including such awkward redundancies as "Choice Greatest Reality Moment," "Choice Grossest Reality Moment," "Choice Scariest Reality Moment," etc. Do the show's producers really believe teenagers devote that much of their lives to reality TV–or does the Teen Choice Awards' sponsor and broadcaster FOX just want to inject a little of its American Idol magic into the proceedings? Hey kids—let's learn about cross-marketing!

 

The Radio Music Awards

Radio was once the most powerful force in the music business. While it still has the ability to launch a new star every so often, radio's propensity to spark entire musical trends based on the genuine zeal of disc jockeys has been lost in a mire of robotic playlists and corporate greed. At first blush, you might think that by bringing the concept of "radio music" to a television award show, it might boost the relevance of radio as a medium of musical discernment. That is, until you find out the mastermind behind the award show is none other than Clear Channel Radio–the company that has made robotic playlists and corporate greed integral parts of its business plan to flood the nation's airwaves with boring music. Consequently, the musicians they play the most are usually the ones who get nominated. (The artist with the most nominations for 2003? That independent punk rocker, Avril Lavigne.) While the Radio Music Awards did include a few radio-centric categories, such as "Best Driving Song" and (for the kids) "Best Hook Up Song," the ceremony was largely indistinguishable from any other music award show, right down to the "special appearance" by the increasingly monstrous Michael Jackson. But why would a show devoted to the joys of radio music include a category named "Most Requested Downloaded Artist?" Did the irony not strike any Clear Channel executives–or are they as clueless as their robot DJs?

 

The VH1 "Biggies"

VH1 takes the ultimate Bottom 5 prize through sheer desperation. A sense of hopelessness permeates every moment of the music network's latest pre-fabricated awards show, and it begins with the sad executives who concocted it. The brainstorm meeting probably went like this:

"Our ratings are plunging. Nobody wants to watch the 258th consecutive rerun of Behind the Music: Motley Crue. I… I think we've lost the cultural zeitgeist!"

"What'll we do?"

"I know! Let's repeatedly air The Godfather: Part III!"

"A bold gambit, perhaps, but for the long term we need a new franchise…are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

In unison: "A zany, celebrity studded award show!"

Thus, the VH1 Big In 2002 Awards were launched. Sure, the channel already had zany award shows for music and fashion, but this would be… even zanier! How? Well, er, ah, with a brand-new concept in award-giving, that's how! Yes, VH1's "Biggies" would brazenly introduce even more nonsensical award categories! No doubt hoping to confuse audiences into being entertained, executives came up with a disjointed potpourri of prizes for celebrities who had "made it big" that year. Categories included: "Shakespeare In Da Hiz-Zouse" (the year's best performance by a Hip-Hop artist in a movie),"I Believe I Can Spy" (the year's best movie spy), "You Can't Spell 'Bald' with 'Bad'" ("This year's 'IT' bald guy"), and the even more bizarrely named "Lolita Ford" (best female newcomer).

With such awesomely stupid and meaningless honors–none of the "winners" had any actual competition–the show's entertainment value rested solely on its celebrity guest list. Of course, the celebrities would be the exact same ones as on all the other zany award shows on VH1 and MTV–but now they looked even more jaded and bored. Even the presenters did little to hide their glazed "my-agent-made-me-do-this" expressions as they recited the Teleprompter's gags. The only spark of life on the show was a tribute to the late Jam Master Jay by Chuck D. and Kid Rock.

Ah, what a magical night! Why, all it needed was a calculatedly bogus lesbian kiss to make the evening complete.

 

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