Review: Why SAG Awards are an ideal model for all awards telecasts

If I ran award shows, they’d go like the SAG Awards: quick, efficient, to the point, without a host or any filler.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good host when the job is done well – see folks like Neil Patrick Harris, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for some of the best examples in recent years – but it’s usually a thankless job, and a hostless show is always preferable to watching an ill-fitting emcee struggle for laughs. (Sorry Michael Strahan, but as hard as you tried, you hosting the Critics’ Choice Awards a couple of weeks ago looked uncomfortable for you and the audience.)

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But most of the big awards shows still try to jam in as much “content” and “entertainment value” as possible, as if to apologize for making us sit through the reading of names and the opening of envelopes. The Grammys get a pass: music awards naturally lend themselves to putting on a glorified concert. But what’s the excuse for everyone else?

Here’s one thing no one has ever, ever said after watching an awards show: “Man, I wish there had been more interpretive dance.”

And no one hopes for emotional speeches to be played off in favor of a third production number. No one asks for fewer clips of the nominated performances to accommodate comedy hijinks. And no one thinks your intro monologue would be better if only it were 10 minutes longer.

Now here’s what the SAG Awards do. The awful, fawning red-carpet intro notwithstanding (“We’d go into the woods with Meryl Streep!” – cringe), we enter an event in which actors honor other actors, and we get to hear a few of them tell stories about being actors – a diverse set that includes a newcomer (Uzo Aduba), an A-list star (Jennifer Aniston), a lesser-known character actor (Mahershala Ali from “House of Cards“), a living legend (Robert Duvall), and a popular comedian (Zach Galifianakis).

Then, instead of a host’s monologue or musical number, we get right to the awards, presented in a straightforward manner – generally speaking, don’t ask presenters to be funny unless it’s their day job to be funny, which is why the one presenting pair that went for laughs (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) actually got them.

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Since there’s no filler, there’s time to show clips of every nominee in every category. Frances McDormand said when she won Best Movie/Miniseries Actress for “Olive Kitteridge,” “I wish we could get some really cozy slippers, a box of seeds, nuts, and shoes. Hang out and watch more of our work, because every little snippet that I see, I want to watch more and more.” That should be the whole point of such an event: to make us enthusiastic about the material being honored.

And sure, it’s apples-and-oranges to watch a scene from “Orphan Black” alongside a clip of “The Good Wife,” but that’s also part of the appeal: to see and appreciate the creative diversity of what gets put on screen, from the subtle (Patricia Arquette explaining her marriage to her child in “Boyhood“), to the bombastic (Viola Davis delivering one of her thrilling tirades in “How to Get Away with Murder“), to the wacky (Aduba making suggestive gestures in “Orange is the New Black“). Watching the SAG Awards made me want to watch more TV and movies.

And not just TV and movies from this era. Even with 13 awards to hand out in two hours, the efficient approach means there’s plenty of time to honor a veteran like Debbie Reynolds, whose Lifetime Achievement Award presentation made me want to go back and watch “Singin’ in the Rain” again.

That also puts the current awards derby in perspective. We could argue for days about the relative virtues of “Boyhood” and “Birdman” – and I have, and I will – but whichever wins, they’d likely trade all their hardware to be remembered as fondly as “Singin’ in the Rain” 60 years from now.

“Singin'” only got two Oscar nominations, by the way, and it lost them both. But I digress.

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There was also time for acceptance speeches, none of which were abruptly cut off, allowing time for Aduba’s graciousness, Davis’s important discussion of what it means to be a dark-skinned woman cast in a complex showcase role, and McDormand’s endearing act of self-promotion (she’d like you to know you can stream “Olive Kitteridge” whenever you like).

At the end of the night, when “Birdman” won Best Film Ensemble, every member of its cast got a turn at the microphone. The music played before Andrea Riseborough had a chance to speak, but when she started talking, the music was cut off, not her.

I imagine someone cueing the music looked at their watch at the end of the night and shrugged – “What’s the hurry? We’ve got time.”

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