Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Golden Globes and the Glory of Ryan Seacrest

It's hard out there for a red-carpet interviewer.

Frankly, most people suck at this job. The newbies, still green behind the ears (I'm looking at you, Ben Lyons) tend to wax synchophantic and get all swoony over the celebs. (Although with the way that E!'s Giuliana Ransic was creaming her jeans over Brad and Angie waving at her, you'd be hard-pressed to remember she's been around awhile.)

Most tend to fall into the vapid vat of "ooh, celebrities, aren't they pretty?" with an occasional twinge of "how does this help my career?" thrown in (Ross Matthews). Which is where the whole "What are you wearing?" debacle originated. When in doubt, ask about their dress.

We can thank (or hate forever) Joan Rivers for that. Rivers, easily the worst red-carpet interviewer in history, who in addition to being vengeful and spiteful and mean, had the annoying habit of forgetting who these damn people were, what they'd been in, what relevance they had to anything, and being long schooled in the comedy of "talk about what you know" started asking about the dresses.

Now, that's all anyone gloms on to. Props in this awards season so far go to Melissa Leo. "What are you wearing?" "My tux," she said non-plussed. I loved her for that.

No, it's a very difficult balance a red-carpet interviewer must walk. If you don't care, you're Joan Rivers. If you care too much, you're Star Jones, and asking everyone to come on The View or ogle her wedding plans.

Truthfully, the red carpet has not been a safe place to walk since Steve Kmetko and Jules Asner held court. Now, THEY knew how to ask the right questions. They knew how to keep the celebritydom in check. Since they've been gone, we've had a vast wasteland of interviewers, most caught up in dress mania, few giving anything of substance at all.

Sam Rubin must be commended as a good interim host. He asks good questions, but even he tends to the fake and air-kissy.

What a surprise, a revelation, even, it was this weekend to see the "my God, this man is everywhere!" host, Ryan Seacrest doing a bang-up job on the red carpet for the Globes. After awhile, I had the unusual sensation of thinking, I really want to hear what Ryan asks this one. Never a comment out of place, never a synchophantic note. All was in order.

He not only appropriately juggled each celebrity (apologizing to Natalie Portman for making a pregnant woman walk up some stairs), he made the most of every moment: bringing Jimmy Fallon and Jason Segal up to sing a song. He knew people's credits (whether because he actually knew, or because he had a great producer whispering in his ear, I don't care—he was on it). It felt real.

I realized when watching him that Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet is the new breed of celebrity interviewer. He made them feel comfortable, being asked inane questions. He even got interesting answers out of them. Because of that, he made us feel comfortable watching, instead of wanting to throw something at the TV. I was grateful to him for that.

Whatever the tenuous balance is: between curiosity about things that are none of our business, and learning more about upcoming projects, and asking how someone is feeling at that moment, Seacrest was really the best in a very long time. In fact, during awards shows, I am normally a maniac with the remote, madly switching back and forth between E! and TVGuide and NBC and whoever else is covering it, because none of them are doing it very well.

Seacrest changed all that. The social-media-friendly celeb interviewer really is on to something here with the tenor and caliber of his interviewing, and I'm truly looking forward to his SAG and Oscar coverage.


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