Rolling Out The 2007 Awards Season

“We get a nice break around Christmas,” Access Hollywood‘s weekend co-anchor and correspondent Tony Potts told me when we spoke in late November, speaking for himself and all the other entertainment journalists who cover the red carpet and awards ceremonies. “Then we all know, before we leave on Christmas, as soon as we get back it starts up like a machine.”

Well, that machine gets activated Jan. 9 with CBS’ coverage of the People’s Choice Awards. “It always starts with the People’s Choice Awards,” said Potts, “which to me is a good way to start off the awards season.”

Potts should know. Working for Access Hollywood since 1999, he has covered “pretty much every awards show that has any merit.” And those famous post-awards parties? “I’ve been to pretty much all of them.” Not to mention the fact that he’s on a first-name basis with Julia, George and other superstars.

So who better to talk to about the upcoming awards season? We put Potts on the other end of the microphone for our interview.

Why do you say the People’s Choice Awards is a great way to start awards season?

Tony Potts: Everybody’s in a great mood; most people who arrive know if they’ve won or not already. I remember one year, arrivals were happening. All of a sudden I see this black SUV come flying up the road and it stops, not where you’re supposed to let the celebrity off to get on the red carpet, but directly across from our platform. I’m like, “Well who could that be?” And out comes a laughing Julia Roberts, and [she] points to me. I’m looking at her like, “Did I do something wrong?” She came straight to me. She’s like, “I thought rather than just walk the whole thing I’d just come right to you.” She had this great dress on, and she was going to make me pay her to make her turn around to see the back. That was fun because that just kind of gives an instance of how much fun stars have, and how much people like Julia can light up an event and have fun.

Are all celebrities that loose on the red carpet?

It depends on the celebrity, but for the most part it also depends on the show. For example, the People’s Choice Awards — not a huge deal in the sense of prestige, but great because of fans. Then you move on to, say, the Golden Globes, where you mix — for one of the first times, really — movies and television. And what’s great about that is, they serve you dinner, and they serve you alcohol. So for the celebrities, it’s a great night to see fellow actors and actresses that they haven’t seen in a while and catch up. And during the commercial breaks of the show, those are my best times because people get up out of their chairs, and Julia will go up to Al Pacino, and be in a huge conversation; Jack [Nicholson] will just stand up and kind of look around and smile. Everybody’s pretty loose at [the Golden Globes]; they want to win, it’s important, but it’s completely different from the Oscars. [There], people are extremely uptight. Even [George] Clooney, who I’ve known for years. Clooney has an incredible “game face.” But I think at the Oscars, a little bit, even he’s nervous. And he’s not nervous at the Golden Globe Awards; in fact, one night he almost attacked me, in a playful kind of a way, because he’s just having fun. So it just depends a lot on the show and what’s riding on the show.

Has there been more aggressive growth in the push for nominations since you’ve been covering these shows?

Absolutely. I think you’ll notice also that the government’s taken note of it with the IRS stepping in with the gift bags. The “swag tax” is really going to put a damper on stuff. I was amazed that year after year I’d go back to these events and I’d go to the gift lounge and see these bags presenters were receiving. And they went from $20,000 to $35,000 to $50,000 to $100,000! It was quite amazing. So they’re very aggressive in the way they want to get their presenters. Secondly, on the flip side, those who may be nominated — or who may be nominated and want to win — are aggressively going after promotion, whether it be through television or in print publications, really pushing certain people. It’s very political. From a broadcast standpoint, the shows have changed. They realize the audience is diminishing.

Any particularly memorable (or forgettable) encounters on the red carpet for you?

I’ve had a couple forgettable ones. One included Julia Roberts at the People’s Choice Awards. If you notice, that award is very sharp and very long. We were walking backstage, and I was just going to do a walk-and-talk and chat with her about winning. I’m on her right, and she has this very heavy, very pointy award in her right hand. And she’s talking, and she talks with her hands. Well, she swings the award, and it hits me … below the equator, as it were. And this was all caught on camera! When she realized what happened, and I really couldn’t speak, there’s that great Julia laugh, and she’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry!” It was just hilarious. So that’s the end of that.

Well, fast-forward to the Golden Globes, and Clooney had won somehow (I think he had paid off people). But he’s in front of the international photographers. They’re all shooting him, all the flashes are going off, and I’m waiting off to the side to be the first to interview him. And he comes off, looks right at me and says, “Hey, Tony, how are you?” Then he goes “bam!” and hits me below the equator and says, “That’s from Julia!” I’m like, “What’s wrong with you people? You just won an award, and here you are beating the stuffing out of me!” [laughs] It’s the playfulness of all of that that I like. I don’t like the actual pain I received, but the playfulness. And George has been like that a lot over the years on the red carpet.

One of the things that we did at the Golden Globe awards that was interesting was we had a cappuccino bar. One of my favorite things of all time was introducing Nathan Lane, who was standing there with me, having a cappuccino, to Ludacris. And hearing the conversation between Nathan Lane and Ludacris was … not ludicrous, but it was very funny!

And I love just the [little] moments — handing Sandra Oh a telephone backstage after she had won a Golden Globe for Sideways, and allowing her to call her father in Canada and see her just become a little girl for a minute and screaming “Daddy! Daddy! I won!” Just to see those kinds of moments makes it all worthwhile; it’s a blast.

Who throws the best post-awards parties?

What’s great about the Golden Globes is the fact that all the parties are right there at the Beverly Hilton Hotel as well [as the ceremony]. So it’s kind of one-stop shopping for the celebrities. And they love that! They can just go from party to party and see their friends. It’s almost like summer camp.

I would say the Vanity Fair party, through tradition, is always an incredible party. Then you have the Miramax party. NBC had a great party this year; you see the networks start to get more involved with the parties, as well. It’s great to see the stars at these parties kind of let their guard down to an extent and just have fun and meet people and give hugs. One of my best memories is just seeing the stars dancing the night away, smiling at them and they smile back and say, “Oh you should be dancing!” There isn’t paparazzi stalking them; it’s a time to let loose and have fun.

On the Oscar front, Vanity Fair, again, is a huge party. Elton John’s party is always a great party; it’s a huge fundraiser for his AIDS foundation. It’s hard for me because I do so much. After nine years, [to] do every awards show and almost every party, it’s pretty crazy. It’s funny — sometimes I’m home by midnight, sometimes I’m home by 3 in the morning, it just depends on if you get into an interesting conversation with somebody. It’s great to see all these stars in deep conversation sometimes with people you wouldn’t think they would talk to.

Tony Potts and Access Hollywood can be seen in syndication; check your local listings for times.