Hollywood’s original awards site is now, well, back at the races — packed with experts’ predictions, racetrack odds, bold pronouncements (“Julianne Moore: Drop down to supporting — That’s an order!“), user talk-back, celebrity dishing (“Let’s play Oscar Outrages with Kathy Griffin!“), savvy awards analysis and more.
For the past five years GoldDerby.com was folded into the Los Angeles Times’ The Envelope where it existed as a blog and message boards, but now it’s back as a stand-alone site while I continue to contribute vigorously on a daily basis to The Envelope. No, that’s not doing double duty — it’s called having twice as much fun.
Special things to point out here at the new Gold Derby:
— Two teams of 11 pundits compete with rival Oscar predictions: experts from Entertainment Weekly, Reuters and other top media vs. Gold Derby’s editors. Today we unveil our rankings for best picture. In the next few days, we’ll reveal their predix for Best Lead and Supporting Actor and Actress too. Over the next few weeks, we’ll include the predix of many more authorities too.
— Rival racetrack odds based upon experts’ and editors’ predix in all of those top five races.
— Four blogs devoted to film, TV, music and theater. You can access their front pages from the “News” tabs in the menu bar above. Also check out our photo galleries and videos, which you can also access via the drop-down menus.
— Lots of interactivity. Check out our message boards (beware the return of “Mistress Malevolent” and “Hypothermia”!) and help with the heavy lifting to produce editorial pages in our wiki section (write background on the Oscars or do a profile page on, say, Anne Hathaway or “The King’s Speech”).
— Stay tuned: Many more features will be added in the upcoming weeks.
FADE TO: GOLD DERBY’S ORIGINS — INT. MANHATTAN BOOKSTORE – LATE 1980S
One afternoon back in the late 1980s I had a shocking eureka moment that would eventually define my journalism career while I worked in Hearst’s magazine development division in New York under the legendary John Mack Carter. At lunch time, I walked over to the now-vanished Coliseum Bookstore at 57th Street and Broadway to buy a book on the Oscars. I found more than 20 — all virtually the same book by different writers ripping each other off. I grabbed one and decided to buy tomes on the Emmys and Grammys too.
Not only did I discover that they didn’t exist, but that they never existed. Yikes! We’re such a nation of Oscar snobs, nobody had bothered to investigate the histories of all of the other Hollywood awards.
Shocked but excited, I ran back to John Mack Carter’s office and said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, sir, but I quit! I’ve got some books to write!”
Lucky for me, John didn’t let me go very far. The research I had to do for those books was so immense and costly that I needed to support myself financially over the many years it would take to compile them, often employing up to seven or eight assistants at one time to comb libraries and archives with me on two coasts. John kept me on retainer with a flexible freelance deal at Hearst that allowed me to come and go. (Thank you, John!) Meantime, I struck a deal with Penguin Putnam to publish “The Emmys,” “The Grammys” and “Movie Awards.” “Movie Awards” would take a breakthrough approach toward Oscarology by tracking 13 major film kudos chronologically year by year historically as one, big, long derby with the Oscars as the finish line.
Once the books hit print, I began appearing on E! Entertainment network’s red-carpet shows with Steve Kmetko and, later, Joan and Melissa Rivers, and other TV shows while also writing about Oscars, Emmys, Grammys for Variety, TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, etc. “Entertainment Tonight” producer Brad Bessey and I came up with a fun idea for a segment that became an annual gig: I’d recruit a panel of TV journos to replicate the Emmy jury process to see if we could predict best comedy actress. (We only got it wrong once — damn, that Helen Hunt foiling poor Calista Flockhart AGAIN).
The segment was so popular that it gave me an idea while the Internet boomed in the mid-1990s: I should take this act on the web and expand it to Oscar, Grammys, Tonys, etc. I was the logical person to do it, after all, being the only expert on all showbiz awards. Besides, it would be easy to round up the journos to participate. They knew me well after contacting me frequently for quotes for their awards coverage.
But, hmmm … what to call my new website? While researching “Movie Awards,” I loved lingering over old pages of Variety from the 1930s when reporters covered the “Oscar derby” like breathless, booze-crazed bookies at Churchill Downs. After 1940, the word “derby” still appears in Variety’s pages now and then, but not like those dramatic Depression days, which I wanted to conjure up again while focusing on the same premise I emphasized in my book. There’s not just an annual Oscar contest, no, but a series of races during which contenders jockey for various gold trophies before entering the home stretch to grab the ultimate 24-karat prize. Thus, “Gold Derby” was perfect.
GoldDerby.com launched in 2000 as I began recruiting various journalists to join me predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tony Awards. First to say yes, was Thelma Adams of Us Weekly (thanks, Thelma!) — who now returns to join our new team of pundits — plus others who brought immense prestige to our ranks while they harrumphed bossy predictions that we turned into racetrack odds that terrorized Hollywood. The initial team of Oscar experts also included David Germain (Associated Press), Leonard Maltin (Entertainment Tonight), Jack Mathews (New York Daily News), Robert Osborne (Turner Classic Movies, author of the official Oscar book) and Joel Siegel (Good Morning America). Within a few years we had more than 45 of America’s top journos predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys with us all year ’round. Our Gold Derby never stopped.
Check out the image above to see GoldDerby.com in late 2002 as we pundits tracked “Gangs of New York” and “Chicago” in the Oscar race and Norah Jones and Eminem making runs for top Grammys. Ah, memories!
CUT TO: INT. GOLD DERBY HEADQUARTERS (TOM’S APARTMENT) – 2005
In the summer of 2005, the Los Angeles Times telephoned and asked to purchase the site so they could fold it into the launch of The Envelope and thereby give their new awards site a boost. They wanted Gold Derby to become a blog that I’d write on a daily basis while also contributing to the print inserts into the Times. Flattered but freaked out over the thought of losing my dear web derby, I said “no” at first, then reconsidered. For a few awkward weeks we explored alternatives until we struck a perfect compromise deal: the Times would license Gold Derby and I would always have the option to reboot it someday.
That was five years ago and now The Envelope is successful. I love my job and the gang I work with, but I’ve always continued to struggle with a nagging private urge to bring GoldDerby.com back. On the eve of my last contract expiration, I informed my Times bosses that I planned to do so this derby season. Of course, I assumed that meant I had to quit the Times, but they responded with a bold and most generous suggestion. Don’t go, they said. Stick around. Continue to write for us. We’ll create a new “Awards Tracker” blog for you and other Times writers to contribute to and we’ll support the launch of GoldDerby.com by selling the ads. If the new partnership works out, we’ll strike a deal that gives the Times an equity stake in GoldDerby.com. Good idea?
Ah, brilliant idea, my friends, Sallie Hoffmeister, Lisa Fung, Sean Gallagher, John O’Loughlin, Patrick Day, Ken Yonan, Francie Berns, etc.! Thanks so much for your support.
Now let’s giddyup!
Tonight (Nov. 5) is our launch party at the Hollywood Museum where we’ll celebrate while bestowing our own trophy: a Career Achievement Award to the dean of Oscar and Emmy campaigners Murray Weismann. Watch Murray and I chat over the secrets of his profession here.