Instead of celebrities and glamour, viewers of NBC's Golden Globes telecast last night were served three hours of cheesy interviews and vapid patter hosted by Hollywood and network TV hacks.
It was the awards show that wasn't - as NBC forged ahead with a telecast even after what has been one of Hollywood's flashiest awards ceremonies was brought to its knees by a writers' strike.
The bulk of NBC's evening was taken up with a disingenuous clip-job of an interview show hosted by Matt Lauer of the Today show. Titled Going for Gold: A Dateline Special, the two-hour production was a cut-and-paste sham that went from embarrassing to vapid to sleazy.
"Usually the Golden Globes are one of the glitziest nights of the year," Lauer told viewers at the start of the telecast. "But not this year. As you may have heard, the stars are not taking to the carpet. But this is your chance to hear from some of Hollywood's biggest stars."
Some golden opportunity - with snippets of conversation from hotel-suite celebrity chats wrapped around clips from nominated productions.
It was not clear when or where the interviews had been conducted. Some featured Today correspondents, and some were handled by Lauer. Many looked as if they could have been done for Today to promote films and TV shows when they opened or premiered - not for last night's awards ceremony.
Lauer's interview with nominee Denzel Washington, for example, included Russell Crowe, his co-star in American Gangster. It certainly had the look of a preopening publicity chat for the film.
The reason for the subterfuge, of course, is the Hollywood writers' strike. Last week, the Writers Guild of America, which is on strike against entertainment companies such as NBC-Universal over future residuals from "new" media, dealt the awards show a near-mortal blow by refusing to grant a waiver for the telecast.
The Screen Actors Guild followed up with its announcement that most of its members - the stars who give the event its flash and glam - would not appear.
And, so, NBC came up with last night's two-hour walkup show, followed by a one-hour announcement of the winners. This way, NBC would not have to give back all the money it had gathered from advertisers. (The Hollywood Foreign Press Association staged a nontelevised press conference as well.)
Last year, the network earned $28 million for the telecast that was seen by 20 million viewers. This year, the take is expected to be $13 million - with more than $15 million going back to advertisers who did not want to be part of the scaled-down telecast that aired last night.
Opting out was the smart way to go.
As pathetic as the interviews were, they were the highlights of Going for Gold.
As for lowlights, viewers were periodically subjected to three members of NBC's Sunday Night Football broadcast team - Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis and Chris Collingsworth - offering their Golden Globe picks.
Here's a sample with Barber, a former running back for the New York Giants, offering his pick for best actor: "In my estimation, this has to go to Johnny Depp ..."
"Whoa, whoa. Have you seen American Gangster and Denzel?" Bettis, a former running back from the Pittsburgh Steelers, demanded. It was film criticism as mud wrestling.
And, there was Kathy Griffin, who also works for NBC, sitting in a director's chair trying to sound catty about the celebrities on the red carpet - something much easier to do when there are actual celebrities to mock.
"The fact of the matter is that these people are just fun to make fun of," Griffin said. "The people have their pretty dresses that they had to puke all week to fit into - ah, awards season."
Only the real story last night was that the stars were not there in their designer dresses and tuxedos - and it grows increasingly likely that the writers' strike will shred the entire awards season, from the Grammys to the Oscars. The latter is worth $80 million a year to the network that hosts it and serves as a major promotional venue for the entire Hollywood industry.
That was one story Lauer and his intrepid team of Today show correspondents weren't reporting last night.
There should have been some news at least during the last hour of the telecast - with the announcement of the winners. Except that several news organizations that attended the actual Hollywood Foreign Press Association news conference scooped the telecast by posting the winners on their Web sites before NBC's Golden Globe Winners Special got around to announcing them.
To hear who the winners were on NBC, you had to suffer through the empty-headed banter and commentary of hosts Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell. (They seemed locked in a vacuum chamber devoid of stars. The setting was as lively as a prison cell.)
The pair, who anchor Access Hollywood, a syndicated entertainment show owned by NBC-Universal, made Lauer seem like Edward R. Murrow.