14 Oct 2008, Posted by Eric Karstens in Television, 0 Comments

Clairvoyance and scandal at the 2008 German Television Awards Ceremony

Scandal wafted across the the German Television Awards ceremony on Saturday afternoon, 11 October in Cologne.

The annual event, trying hard to bring some glamour to the somewhat bland German television scene, was recorded in order to be broadcast only one day later. It is the place to go for everybody who deems him- or herself important in the business. It is also the one and only entertainment sector award ceremony where the TV channels themselves are supposed to have everything under control.

Not this time. The jury had decided to honour octogenarian literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki with a lifetime achievement award. While a well-respected yet controversial figure in Germany’s literary circles and mainly writing for newspapers, hot-tempered Reich-Ranicki has never been a stranger to television. He is a frequent guest in talk shows, even hosting his own literature show on public TV for 14 years. So far, so good.

But the organisers of the ceremony made, as it turned out, a huge mistake. Just like all the other nominees, Reich-Ranicki was forced to sit in the audience and watch how prizes were handed over in several other categories. What he had to endure during that time did not make him happy. In fact, he was so appalled by what he saw, that when he was finally called on stage, he spontaneously decided not to accept the award. Instead, he gave the audience one of his famous and dreaded dressing-downs, condemning the event itself, many of the evening’s prize-receiving programmes, and, for good measure, German television as a whole.

Reich-Ranicki is surely not the first person to express unease with the state of things in German TV programming, and hardly the most competent one. But he was probably the first to do so in front of an audience of around 6 million – while in a rather agitated state. Actually, people who watched say that it was almost exclusively by virtue of his outburst that this year’s award show was not as stupefyingly boring and awkward as usual, but had a few genuinely entertaining highlights.

However, the party which really embarrassed itself was surprisingly neither Reich-Ranicki nor the scolded protagonists of German television (who will have forgotten about the whole thing within the week anyway). Somewhat gleefully, German broadsheet Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, longtime employer of Reich-Ranicki, lists the night’s glitches of precipitous online media. Even reputable publications were in such a haste to report about the scandal that they sacrificed the rules of sound journalistic research for mere speed.

The prize for self-embarrassment goes to tabloid newspaper Berliner Kurier. In the effort to be the first online source to cover the Saturday event, Kurier journalists did not even wait for the ceremony to finish. At 9 p.m., completely unaware of the actual events unfolding at the very same time on location in Cologne, they published a piece on how Reich-Ranicki had received the lifetime achievement award and how everybody was happily partying away until the break of dawn.

An unfortunate yet not entirely singular case of, well, journalistic clairvoyance malfunction, brought about by the pressures of real-time reporting and by cost-cutting in news organisations. I actually once heard a news executive say it: “My staff goes home at 8 p.m., unless something happens later.”