MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

A Host of Bad Publicity | January 17, 2011

Given that The Social Network — a film about the internet’s influence on human interaction — was named 2010’s Best Drama at last night’s Golden Globes, perhaps it’s fitting that the web is abuzz with reactions to the 68th annual Hollywood awards show. Most of the commentary, however, focuses less on the ceremony’s big winners than its perceived biggest loser: Ricky Gervais, the British comic who acted as emcee and systematically insulted almost every facet of celebrity culture.

Gervais, who last night hosted his second (and possibly last) Globes show, started the evening with an easy jab at an even easier mark: “It’s going to be a night of partying and heavy drinking — or, as Charlie Sheen calls it, breakfast.” From there, the comedian mocked Scientology as a coven for secret Hollywood homosexuals, referred to Bruce Willis as “Ashton Kutcher’s dad,” and even claimed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — the collection of international critics who pick the Golden Globe candidates and winners — decided to accept bribes this year, thus explaining nominations for The Tourist and Burlesque. Many of his quips were met with uncomfortable groans from the showbiz audience members, some of whom went so far as to taunt Gervais during their turns at the mic: Robert Downey Jr., before presenting the Best Comedic Actress award, noted that the show had been “hugely mean-spirited with mildly sinister undertones”; later on, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen joked about a time “when Ricky Gervais was a slightly chubby but very kind comedian…neither of which he is now.”

Still, knowing the human penchant to glorify scandal, as well as the time-honored mantra that “all publicity is good publicity,” one has to ask: Was Gervais’ act — albeit awkward, inflammatory and oftentimes crude — actually a bad thing? At least early on, the numbers suggest that it wasn’t. NBC’s telecast of last night’s Globes was up five percent from last year, and, with a draw of 17 million viewers, it won the night for NBC in terms of both key demographics and total audience. This morning, meanwhile, the search term “gervais” hovers consistently in Google Trend’s Top 10; the only other similarly-positioned entertainment term is a routine search for “golden globes.” This means that Gervais, besides raising the show’s viewership, is also the most Googled celebrity in the wake of the glamorous event — which honored such industry titans as Robert De Niro, Natalie Portman and Colin Firth. That his jokes were off-color and poorly-received seems inconsequential in the quest for popularity and ratings.

This, of course, is no new trend for the entertainment business — but that’s not to say it isn’t worsening. Starting two years ago, Donald Trump replaced the unknowns on his reality show The Apprentice with celebrities, and as their childish bickering increased so did his ratings. The same can be said of Gervais target Charlie Sheen, whose show Two and a Half Men drew nearly 14 million viewers — up seven percent from a typical week — the Monday following his public indiscretion with a porn star in New York. Gervais at the Golden Globes, then, is perhaps just the most recent and most visible instance of a trend that rewards bad behavior with a riveted audience. Judge for yourself: below are the highlights — or, depending on your perspective, the lowlights — from Ricky’s routine.

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