Tonight, ESPN hosts the 25th edition of the ESPYs, the channel’s sports-centric awards show that gives out prizes in categories such as Best Male Athlete, Best Female Athlete and Best Game. With the exception of a few categories — specifically, the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Jimmy V Award, which go to individuals whose heroism or real-life health battles make them inspirational figures, leading to some of the most moving moments of the night — the ESPYs are a deeply silly affair. Nobody remembers who wins these prizes from year to year, and the whole show feels like a cynical way for ESPN to capitalize on the fact that there’s not much else in the way of sports programming the evening after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
But alas, we live in an age of awards shows, and they come in two forms. The elite programs — the Emmys, the Grammys, the Oscars, the Tonys — honor excellence in specific fields and are voted on by the members of those communities. You can call these shows stuffy or backslapping, but at least they’re judged by people in their fields, which gives them some measure of prestige and relevance. And then … you have all the others, like the ESPYs, which are basically straight-up promotional tools meant to cater to specific audiences while giving out meaningless trophies. This latter type of awards program tends to be “hip” or “irreverent” or “populist” as a way to thumb its nose at those more formal shows. As a result, nobody takes them seriously — even the people who are being honored.
To celebrate the ESPYs’ big night, here’s our salute to six of the least important long-running awards shows to have ever existed. And before you ask: No, we didn’t include the much-derided Golden Globes, which at least do a decent job of putting on a good broadcast so that their dopey awards seem respectable. The shows that made our list are far lamer.
Spike Guys Choice Awards
History of Its Terribleness: In the early 2000s, the bro-centric cable channel Spike TV developed the Spike Video Game Awards, the first major televised awards program devoted to gaming. But a few years later, Spike added a far less inspired awards show to its slate: The Guys Choice Awards, which “commemorates all the things men love,” premiered in 2007, flouting proper punctuation in its name and featuring oh-so-irreverent categories such as Ballsiest Band, Funniest M.F., Sickest Rhymes and Naughtiest Cybervixen. Handing out a golden pair of antlers as a trophy, the Guys Choice Awards pay a lot of lip service to supporting the troops when it’s not busy objectifying women — you know, like red-blooded American men like to do.
Saddest Moment: On the red carpet in 2013, Extra’s super-peppy Terri Seymour caught up with the Lonely Island, breathlessly asking them why they thought it was important to have a show dedicated entirely to guys. “I think it’s not at all important,” Andy Samberg replied flatly, looking bored and embarrassed to even be seen there. “I think this whole thing is ridiculous — and we’re here to promote our album.”
Does It Still Exist? Apparently not: Last year’s installment aired in June 2016.
Cable Ace Awards
History of Its Terribleness: When the awards show dedicated to cable programming began in 1978, there was good reason for its existence: The Emmys, the prestige prize in television, didn’t allow cable shows to qualify, so the misfits decided to start their own show to recognize greatness in their field. The Cable Ace Awards helped bring attention to programs like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show that were snubbed by the Emmys, which didn’t start recognizing cable series until 1988. But even so, the Ace Awards always had an also-ran quality to them, charging networks to enter their programs for consideration — and then making them pay again to attend the broadcast. Also, the show had a famously ugly trophy — a big, stupid playing-card ace that looked like what Bob in Accounts Payable got for being the company’s most improved employee in the third quarter.
Saddest Moment: In 2011, Conan O’Brien recalled, “The first awards show I ever went to was the Cable Ace Awards [while he was a writer on The Simpsons]. It was my introduction to the inherent crappiness of show business. I showed up with my writing partner Greg Daniels. We’re sitting there, and we’re like, ‘Wow, we’ve been invited to the Cable Ace Awards. This is going to be great. We’ve never been to an awards show in Hollywood before.’ Just before the show started, this announcement came on and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, in a minute the opening sequence will begin. The Four Tops will come out dressed as spacemen. They will sing a medley of their songs. At one point they will pause and start firing lasers. The lasers will be added later in post. Please ooh and ahh.’ Like what the fuck? … That basically in one moment summed up what show business really is. … [T]here’s the initial wow, it’s so beautiful. Then you get closer and that looks like crap. It’s like a child painted this.”
Does It Still Exist? The awards show ended after the 1997 ceremony, the same year that several HBO series were nominated for (or even won) Emmys. “We created the Ace Awards two decades ago, at the infancy of the industry, and at a time when we were insecure and felt we would never get the recognition,” John Hendricks, the chairman of the National Academy of Cable programming, said the following year while announcing the decision to pull the plug. “We have come such a long way.” But in the same article, an anonymous insider expressed the industry’s true feelings about the program: “Nobody ever thought it was produced well. Nobody is weeping.”
History of Its Terribleness: More formally known as the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Razzies have been around since 1981, the brainchild of John Wilson, a publicist who had the idea of “honoring” the year’s worst movies. “We are promoting something the industry does not appreciate,” Wilson said in 2009. “They try and ignore us like a fart in a church. We focus on big-budget, big-name, well-known movies because they have no excuse to be as bad as they are.”
The awards — which include Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Actress and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel — are voted on by the organization’s paying members, who enjoy taking potshots at easy targets such as Jack and Jill, The Love Guru and Gigli. The Razzies like to think that they’re sticking it to bad movies, but really they’re about promoting their own brand and scoring cheap laughs off cinematic crap. If life’s too short to watch bad movies, it’s really too short to care about the Razzies.
Saddest Moment: “Winners” like Halle Berry (for Catwoman) and Sandra Bullock (for All About Steve) have actually shown up to the ceremony to collect their prizes, which mostly proves that they’re good sports. But more often than not, the Razzies feature witless comedic bits like this Obama parody. No matter how stuffy you think the Oscars are, at least that awards show has funny, talented people on it.
Does It Still Exist? Sadly, yes. The Razzies will outlive us all.
MTV Movie Awards
History of Its Terribleness: For years, journalists and music lovers mocked MTV for continuing to hold its annual Video Music Awards, even though the channel had long since stopped airing videos. But there was even less reason for MTV to create an awards show for movies — except, of course, that it was a great way to solidify the channel’s connection to Hollywood and the young viewers both studios and MTV crave.
Launching in 1992, the MTV Movie Awards initially went with edgier fare than the Oscars do. (Best Movie has gone to the likes of Menace II Society, Pulp Fiction and The Matrix.) But in recent years, the show has drifted toward teen-flick garbage like the Twilight films and super-popular movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens — as if a Star Wars film really needed any more cultural saturation.
Saddest Moment: For three straight years, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart won Best Kiss for the Twilight films. And each time they won, the acting duo went on stage and delivered the most uncomfortable acceptance speeches imaginable — basically doing everything they could to avoid kissing each other, which the whooping audience badly wanted to see. No award winner has ever looked more miserable to be on stage than those two.
Does It Still Exist? Yup, and it’s growing. In 2017, the show rebranded itself as the MTV Movie & TV Awards to cash in on the popularity of peak TV. And, in a novel wrinkle, the ceremony no longer breaks down acting awards into male/female categories, letting actors compete together for the same golden-popcorn trophy. That’s somewhat progressive, we suppose. But any show hosted by Adam Devine should only be given so much credit for ingenuity.
American Music Awards
History of Its Terribleness: Dick Clark was a television powerhouse, giving the world everything from American Bandstand to TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes to Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The guy might not have been an artistic giant, but he knew what people liked and happily gave it to them. The American Music Awards, which began in 1974, was Clark’s way of competing with the Grammys — but instead of having industry members voting on the prizes, the AMAs based their awards on sales, later allowing fans to cast online ballots. People complain that awards shows are just popularity contests, but the AMAs truly are that, recognizing the biggest musical stars in the world with one of the dumbest of all awards, a big crystal pyramid that looks like an icicle.
Saddest Moment: Imagine if Adele, so distraught that her 25 won the Album of the Year Grammy over Beyonce’s Lemonade, simply refused to accept the prize. It would be a huge deal, right? Well, something similar happened at the 1996 AMAs — and nobody remembers it. Garth Brooks was named Favorite Artist of the Year, which he turned down from the stage. Walking up to the podium, the country star told the crowd, “Without any disrespect for the American Music Awards and without any disrespect for the people who voted, for all the people who should be honored I’m going to leave it right here.”
Later, he explained that he felt he didn’t deserve the prize because “I’ve been around [the country] talking to retailers … and every one of them credits Hootie [and the Blowfish] for keeping them alive in 1995, and I couldn’t agree more. So I thought that’s who should’ve won.” Clark would declare Brooks’ gesture “a stroke of genius” — but it’s indicative of the AMAs’ cultural relevance that this seemingly shocking moment has barely made a dent in our consciousness. (Also, imagine a time when Hootie and the Blowfish were the most worthy winner of a trophy.)
Does It Still Exist? Like clockwork, the AMAs show up every November. The Favorite Artist winner should refuse the prize every year until someone takes notice.
People’s Choice Awards
History of Its Terribleness: In 2007, The Los Angeles Times described the People’s Choice prizes (which began in 1975) as “based on results from polls, market research and online voting,” which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s a program designed to honor what’s already well-liked. As Gawker writer Brian Moylan put it, “[T]he types of popular culture that wins the People’s Choice Award … don’t need awards at all. They are unspeakably popular, and that means they reap the benefits of being popular, like making shit loads of money, having plenty of opportunities for more work and the ability to impart whatever message on the world they want.”
Saddest Moment: Everybody in Hollywood has always known this show is a total joke. According to showbiz gossip writer Roger Friedman, in the program’s early days “publicists could control the outcome of the show” and “the winners were always sitting in the front row of the show, grinning, ready with memorized speeches. Losers didn’t bother getting dressed for the night. The ‘fix’ was in.”
Does It Still Exist? Barely. In April, Procter & Gamble (which owned the show for 35 years) sold the program to E!, the reason almost certainly being the abysmal ratings the program now receives. Ironically, an awards show that honors what’s popular isn’t itself all that popular anymore.