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11-28-05, 06:57 AM
All You Never Wanted to Know About Awards
Written by Burt Prelutsky
Monday, November 28, 2005

I am of two minds where awards are concerned. On the one hand, I think there are way too many of them. You can hardly turn on your television without seeing an endless parade of actors, singers, producers, and directors, taking home a virtual smorgasbord of statuettes, plaques, and scrolls. It’s no wonder that celebrities have to live in houses the size of Buckingham Palace. Anything smaller and there wouldn’t be room for both them and their trophies.

On the other hand, I haven’t won nearly enough. Oh, I suppose some folks would say that I’ve won more than my share. But they would be those whiny crybabies who have won even fewer than I have.

In my experience, I have found that the only thing more unpleasant than not even being nominated is being nominated and then not winning. Or to put it more bluntly, losing. I have had that miserable experience on three occasions. Twice, I was nominated for Writers Guild awards, and lost. That was bad, but it was bearable.

The worst occasion, however, took place nearly 30 years ago, and it still feels as fresh as yesterday. The award was one I didn’t even know existed until I found myself a finalist. The Humanitas had only been initiated the year before, and, so, winning it wasn’t yet the big deal it’s become over the ensuing decades.

It was a television award, but one for which you didn’t submit your own scripts; that was done by the producers or the studios. So, my first inkling of the award was when I received notice in the mail. There were, I learned, three nominees in each of the three categories -- half-hour, hour, and two hours or longer. Best of all, there were cash awards ranging from $10,000 up to $25,000, depending on the show’s length.

To say I was confident that I’d be heading home from the awards luncheon $10,000 richer would be classic understatement. After all, the award was intended to recognize the show that best-exemplified Judeo-Christian principles. Now if I had set out to win an award handed out by a Catholic organization, how could I have done better than to write a “M*A*S*H” episode, “Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?,” in which a soldier suffering from battle fatigue, shows up at 4077th convinced he’s Jesus Christ? And when you realize that evil Col. Flagg, he of the C.I.A., tries to get him court-martialed as a gold brick, while Father Mulcahy and the Jewish psychiatrist, Capt. Sidney Freedman, go to bat for Jesus, you can see why I assumed the check had my name on it.

There was one final thing that helped convince me I had won. In the various press releases that had gone out announcing the nominees, my name was always listed first, then Seth Freeman, and finally Larry Gelbart. So when the M.C. of the event read off the contenders, starting with Mr. Freeman, followed by Mr. Gelbart, I naturally assumed he was leading up to “…and the winner, Burt Prelutsky.” As a result, I was halfway out of my chair when he said, “Burt Prelutsky…and the winner is Larry Gelbart.”

Not only didn’t I win $10,000, but, because I was so certain I was going to win, I felt as if I’d lost $10,000. The only good thing about it is that I wasn’t up for a television movie, or I’d have felt like I had lost $25,000!

The next day, when I finally quit crying, I wrote a letter to Father Bud Kiser. He was the priest who not only produced the long-running Sunday morning dramatic series, “Insight,” but the fellow who had created the Humanitas award, and managed to persuade some pharmaceutical company to foot the entire bill.

In my letter, I suggested a couple of changes I thought they should consider making in the future. First, I thought that the winner-take-all policy was inappropriate. I pointed out that, inasmuch as there were only three finalists in each category, it would be nicer if, say, first place was worth $6,000; second, $3,000; and third, a grand.

I also suggested that, even if they didn’t alter the prize money, there was no good reason why the nominees couldn’t be told in advance who had won. After all, these weren’t the Oscars or the Emmys, televised specials where they want to see the celebrities in the audience. I explained to Father Kiser that even if I’d known that Larry Gelbart was going to win, I’d have shown up to applaud. After all, Gelbart had hired me in his capacity as a “M*A*S*H” producer to write my episode. Besides, it was a free lunch.

It just seemed tacky that an award that was supposed to nurture the finest instincts among Hollywood writers would hand out $50,000 to three lucky winners, but send home six writers feeling as if they’ve just lost a collective $100,000. What’s more, because they mail you a scroll when you’re nominated, you’re out of pocket the price of framing the darn thing.

It was about three months later that Father Kiser got back to me. He phoned to thank me for taking the time to write. He said he had found my letter interesting.

I guess he found it interesting, but not compelling. I have been told that nothing has changed since 1976. Well, maybe one thing. For although I went on to win three Christophers, those awards handed out by the Catholic Christopher Society, for my television movies, I was never again even in the running for a Humanitas.

The moral of my story is that it’s okay to preach to the choir, but never preach to the priest.

About the Writer: Burt Prelutsky is a humorist, movie reviewer, writer for television series and movies, and author of the new book, "Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco." His website is at burtprelutsky.com. Burt receives e-mail at BurtPrelutsky@aol.com.