If you missed last week's TV Guide Awards or last month's Grammys, don't worry. Chances are there's a new celebrity-packed awards show kicking off momentarily.

Entertainment awards programming is proliferating as never before, and as fluffy as these events can be, they are providing a serious payoff for movie studios, music labels, television networks, cable channels, magazine publishers, presenting organizations and a host of others.

The entertainment industry held an eye-popping 565 awards shows last year, according to Hollywood trade paper Variety. That's 65 percent more than were held in 1999, and averages out to an award being handed out every two hours 24 hours a day, seven days a week over the course of the year.

Clearly, more is going on than a collegial recognition of quality work.

"Award shows are cheap to produce and the audience is almost always there," said Robert Schwartz, an entertainment attorney with O'Melveny & Myers. "It's a win for everyone involved."

Indeed, one of the most lavishly produced shows, the Academy Awards, costs only around $1 million to produce, according to Schwartz. That's a fraction of the revenues it generates for studios, which often hit paydirt with increased box office and a rush to rent videos and DVDs. It's also a big win for the ABC television network, which will have advertisers vying for airtime during the show, and for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which charges ABC and foreign broadcasters license fees to air the show.

"There are so many that it has become difficult to keep track," said E Online editor-in-chief Scott Robson. "It becomes white noise after awhile, but everybody figures they can make their show heard above the din."

This week there's the Hollywood Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylist Awards. Next week the wave crests, with awards presented at the Publicists Guild of America Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Golden Raspberry Awards and the Academy Awards.

Yet, there's hardly a lull after the Oscars. Some of the televised awards shows in April and May include the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, the Kid's Choice Awards, the American Comedy Awards, the Dove Awards (honoring Christian and gospel music) and the Daytime Emmy Awards.

Prior to 1971, there were just three entertainment awards shows on television: the Academy Awards, the Emmys and the Tonys. When ABC aired the Grammys and Paul McCartney showed up to accept an award for "Let It Be" in 1971, ratings soared. After that, star-studded awards shows began attracting major advertising revenue, and the rush was on to televise them.

The growth of the awards shows has been driven mostly by the TV networks and cable channels, which are always on the prowl for low-cost, high-revenue programming, according to Robson.

"There's so much time on television to fill," he said. "If the shows didn't pay for themselves, they wouldn't continue."

Media conglomerates, which stand to benefit on many levels from awards shows, are seizing the opportunity to produce them. Viacom Inc. unit Blockbuster has its Blockbuster Entertainment Awards. The show, notorious for informing the winners of their victory before the event in order to entice them to appear, has turned into a huge popularity contest. Last year, the public cast more than 25 million votes in 50 categories, which is the most for any entertainment awards show. Viacom also puts on the MTV Video Music Awards, MTV Movie Awards and others.

The awards are becoming increasingly compartmentalized, making it seem like there's an award for everything, from the best movie previews (the Golden Trailers) to the least cooperative performer (the Sour Apples.)

"If you cater to a specific enough audience, you can stand out and get the viewership you need," Robson said. "But what we've ended up with is a splintering of awards. The net effect makes the major, established awards shows all that more important."

Sour Apples or not, viewers are still flocking to the biggest, longest-standing awards shows like the Emmys, the Academy Awards and the Grammys. Last year's Oscar event attracted 46.3 million viewers, up almost 1 million from 1999, according to Nielsen Media Research. The 2001 Grammy audience was down slightly from 2000, but still high at 26.6 million. Last year's Emmys drew 21.8 million viewers, up from 17.4 million in 1999.

The Internet has spawned its share of awards shows and offline awards show buzz. Last fall, Viacom's VH1 held its "My VH1 Music Awards," the first awards show conducted almost entirely online. Last week, TV Guide held part of its awards show through online voting.

The Internet can also be relied on to draw audiences to award shows after the fact. E Online, for example, consistently garners its highest traffic during and after major award shows. The site draws visitors with a combination of celebrity gossip, a list of winners and an irreverent best-and-worst-of and a photo gallery.

"The Internet opens up yet another avenue of access for people at home, and because it's so interactive and intimate, it adds a layer of complexity to the awards shows," Robson said.

It also adds another layer of viewers, most of them in a demographic that appeals to advertisers, which may in turn lead to a demand for more awards shows.

"It all feeds upon itself, but that's Hollywood," Robson said. "It's not necessarily a bad thing. If people weren't interested, it wouldn't happen."

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