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Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

MARCH 8, 1999:  In the pantheon of television pageantry, award shows hold a special place in my heart. You're thinking that it's probably the fashion parade that I love, and you wouldn't be incorrect. How could we forget that ghastly outfit Cher wore, causing a Hollywood wag to quip that it would "either set the wigwam afire or bring rain." Just what was Ashley Judd wearing under that diaphanous white gown last year? What ever became of that hideous sequined Hawaiian shirt Sally Field wore? But even more than the annual runway of styles for stars, it is the speeches I love to watch because, for as much as Cher made us hoot, how do you top a line like Barbra Streisand's "Hello, gorgeous"? That was 1969 and 30 years later it still stands as one of the classic acceptance lines.

Oh sure, that boozefest known as the Golden Globes generates its share of memorable words of gratitude, although the Grammys is beginning to close in on Most Obsequious (e.g., Fiona Apple, anything uttered by Mariah Carey). Then there are the Emmys, the Daytime Emmys, anything awarded on MTV, and all those other award shows. But the ne plus ultra of award shows is the Oscars. There is, categorically, nothing like the Academy Awards.

It is the Alpha and the Omega of awards ceremonies, an excuse for stentorian droning about "outstanding achievement" and then awarding the statuette to absolute drivel. When I used to share an office with Chronicle film section editor Marjorie Baumgarten, she would always give me an absolutely incredulous look the day after the Oscars every year and say, "You always act like these are supposed to be awarded on the basis of merit!" I do -- I find it appalling Jack Nicholson is sleepwalking through his roles these days and wins Oscars for it! Of course, I am also the one who will watch Titanic secretly thinking they will get rescued this time.

Note the casual reference to "other award shows." Some of you may not know that I have worked for the Austin Music Awards show in one capacity or another for 17 years. Well, I have, and that's another reason televised awards shows are of such interest to me. I watch for the details and take notes: Do the winners enter from the wings or out of the audience? How do they handle live situations such as a guy with "soy bomb" painted on his chest getting pulled offstage for some impromptu shimmying with Bob Dylan? What happens when someone is not there to accept? How do you keep the winners from bumbling around onstage?

The scrutiny paid off. I learned there's more likelihood of error and delay with people coming out of the audience. That a good security crew will hustle off a soy bomber immediately. That a good emcee can gloss over a no-show effortlessly. That escorts do more than look good and golf-clap; they keep the star from walking off the edge of the stage. (This sort of observation made me wonder why this year's Grammys broadcast had winners coming out of the audience and from backstage. The backstage ones were ready to go; the winners on the floor tended to balk, like Celine Dion, waiting for their entire crew before ascending the stage.)

Acceptance speeches at these shows have become confused with thank-you speeches. Joe Pesci delivered one of the classiest acceptance speeches in 1990 when he won Best Supporting Actor for Goodfellas. "It's my honor," he acknowledged and didn't burble out a litany of names including his mom's goldfish. The winners who rattle off names usually piss off those who don't get mentioned because any time there's a long list to thank, you can bet there are more behind the scenes. This is why film credits are so bloody long these days; even the caterer gets credit. Thank-yous should be short and sweet.

Johnny "Tarzan" Weismuller lost enough times to gripe, "Me sit in trees 17 years. Me watch 'em come and go.

Sometimes the best lines are from the non-winners. Fed up with watching Harold Russell brag backstage about winning Best Supporting Actor as well as a Special Achievement Oscar for Best Years of Our Lives in 1946, Cary Grant sniped about the actor, who had lost his arms in battle. "Where can I get a stick of dynamite?" Grant asked. Olympic swimmer-turned-Tarzan Johnny Weismuller lost enough times to gripe, "Me sit in trees 17 years. Me watch 'em come and go." Still, there's nothing like the bathos of an acceptance speech such as the one Sally Field gave in 1984: "I can't deny the fact that you like me! Right now you like me!" Oh, Sally. Be gracious and shut up.

The 71st Annual Academy Awards (3/21, 7:30pm, ABC) takes place on Sunday, the last night of SXSW '99. Good thing the Diamond Smugglers don't go on until 1am at La Zona Rosa that night.

Did I say thank-you speeches should be short and sweet? Okay, then I'll be brief. This is my last "TV Eye." Next week, Belinda Acosta takes over this column. So, thank you, readers, for having made this so much fun. Never in my wild kid dreams would I have believed that the hours I spent watching TV would ever matter. It did, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who spent time corresponding with me about the pleasures of it, digging up TV trivia, singing old cartoon themes, locating animation art, going into personal archives for photos and facts, and stopping me in Book People to discuss Joan Crawford movies and in Whole Foods to discuss Ally McBeal. With apologies to Mae West but no regrets, I'm the girl who likes to watch AMC all day and Fox at night.

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