The Tony Awards Go From Irrelevant to Bullshit

07/15/2009 4:21 PM |

2bb7/1247689248-tonyaward1.jpgSnobbish Tony Awards voters pissed off the wrong people.

Many big and glitzy Broadway productions are getting snubbed when it comes to the box-office boosting prizes; mature new works like the relatively little seen Next to Normal snatch up awards, leaving expensive spectacles like 9 to 5 to flounder. So the powerbrokers in the Tony Management Committee did what any powerful group should do when things don’t go their way: change the rules.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had a similar problem at its last awards ceremony: many 1s and 0s were spilled over the fact that big ticket-sellers like The Dark Knight and Wall-E were passed over for a Best Picture nomination for more “prestigious” work, like Frost/Nixon and The Reader. (The problem wasn’t generating interest in the movies so much as getting people tuned into the moneymaking telecast.) The Oscars handled it by expanding the Best Picture category: while only one film will win, now 10 movies will get the nomination, as opposed to the old five. It’s a silly solution, but no one really gets hurt; the old “Best Picture Nominee” tag just won’t carry the cachet it once did.

The Tonys’ solution to its highbrow/lowbrow divide is far more offensive: 12 percent of their voters will be purged from the rolls. A random sampling, perhaps? No: the group’s 100 journalists and critics have been kicked out. Officially, the Times reported, “the committee concluded that it was a conflict of interest for journalists to vote on Tony contenders when they have a platform to champion a show in news and entertainment media.” But there isn’t a conflict of interest among the industry insiders that make up the rest of the voters?

The real reason for the rules change seems to be that journalists not only actually see all of the competing productions, but they then vote for what they think is the best work over what’s making the most money; they might not even take their industry friendships into consideration when casting their ballots! Some insiders told the Times that “by removing journalists from the pool of voters, a degree of independent judgment of Tony-worthy productions would be lost — leaving theater industry professionals who might be inclined, in some instances, to vote for their own productions or those of their friends and business associates.” The Tonys were already largely irrelevant-everyone gets nominated for something! “And the Best Tourist Trap Production goes to…” Now they hardly seem more credible than a study on the health effects of tobacco sponsored by Philip Morris.