Each of the three years Ricky Gervais hosted the Golden Globes, he was Hollywood's notorious poster boy for giving zero sh--s: mocking celebrities' plastic surgery, making light of their addictions and hinting at gay rumors. And without fail, each time he hosted, he promised he'd never do it again.
Only when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler took over in 2013 did Gervais' crying wolf gain credibility. Given that their run coincided with higher ratings than his --hitting 20.9 million viewers in 2014, a 10-year high for the program--and critics thought FeyPo had all Gervais' bite without his smug sting, Ricky's reign really did seem over.
It's understandable then, why the recent announcement that he'll return as emcee for the 2016 ceremony prompted the "Huh? Why?" heard round the world. Unfortunately, Gervais' reps didn't respond to an interview request, but TVGuide.com talked with Globes insiders and industry experts to find out why the brash Brit is returning for Round 4. Here are five reasons he'll be back:
1. The Globes asked Gervais to return: "We approached him," says Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and late-night programming at NBC, which broadcasts the Globes. "We said, 'Ricky, please come back. It's time.'" Gervais took convincing, Telegdy tells TVGuide.com. "He said, 'For you guys. You tolerated me. [But] you better watch out.'"
"Tina and Amy had a fantastic run," Telegdy adds. "Ricky was hard to follow; they're a hard act to follow. Ricky didn't mind following them or himself. He has only begun to scratch the surface of how he can perform this role." Telegdy also dismisses rumors that Gervais had to submit a script for approval. "Ricky has complete creative freedom, as he has had in previous years."
2. Ricky Gervais fits the Golden Globes persona: "What makes the Golden Globes special," says Lorenzo Soria, current HFPA president, "and the reason why so many people love our show, is the unexpected--what you cannot plan, script." The Globes is considered the "fun" awards show, a place where Hollywood's elite from both TV and film can openly imbibe and not take themselves too seriously. Gervais, with his accent and wry take, fits their mold. "We are buying into a presenter who is going to do unexpected things," Soria says.
Other hosts were considered, as well as the possibility of returning to the no-host format, which the Globes had for 15 years until 2010. "Although there was some resistance in the past," Soria says, "we are happy about Ricky coming back."
3. Ricky Gervais = controversy, and controversy builds buzz: Outrage, rumors and conspiracy theories--like the one that Gervais had been yanked off the show mid-broadcast in 2011 when he disappeared for nearly an hour--give the show priceless publicity. To be sure, the Globes is nakedly marketing unpredictability. "What will he say? What will he do?" executive producer Barry Adelman says in a release, while the Globes' poster warns us to "Hang on to your Globes." It's FOMO at its finest, and at least one expert says it's an elaborate act.
"I never took seriously the denunciation," says James F. English, a University of Pennsylvania professor whose book The Economy of Prestige is about cultural prizes and awards. "That all seemed like a bit of play-acting."
Scandal is important for award ceremonies, he says, because otherwise, they're kind of boring. "That seemingly disruptive, outrageous, ill-mannered behavior... people say, 'Oh that was so awful!' but you get this story repeated. You have discussions about values, and what's appropriate. That's good for the Globes. If you can get buzz with some scandal and outrage, you get people watching. It's not actually about the awards. It's about the market share and profits."
4. Gervais almost guarantees strong ratings: As it happens, the Academy Awards named Chris Rock its host just days before the Globes' announcement. The timing wasn't without significance; the Academy Awards typically gets almost double the Globes' ratings--36.6. million viewers to the Globes' 19.3 million in 2015, according to Variety. To stay competitive, the Globes needs to ensure eyeballs land on the screen and the "battered hero back to reclaim his glory" is one of the most bankable story lines in the Hollywood playbook.
Though lots of factors can affect an award show's ratings--including what was nominated that year and what else was on TV that day, like say, a football game--the Globes saw a slight dip in 2015. On Fey and Poehler's final, still impressive turn, 19.3 million viewers watched, down from the previous year's 20.9 million. Could Gervais have been brought back because he's a sure ratings bet?
"We do not think about ratings when we vote for movies and television shows," says Soria. "We don't think about ratings when we choose a host." That said, "It's a television show on national television so I'm not going to pretend that ratings do not matter."
5. Ricky Gervais wants to outdo himself: Jamie Masada, founder of the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles, thinks he knows why Gervais — and any comedian for that matter — would take on the gig again. "I think he came back to challenge himself," Masada says. Artists thrive off risk, and Gervais being Gervais, he may want to see what else he can do with the role--as well as prove a point. "We have to laugh at ourselves," Masada adds. "We used to be able to do that, but everyone's gotten so uptight. They need a comedian who will go to the edge, and Ricky is good at that."
Network bigwigs frequent Masada's club, and from what he's seen, they enjoy Gervais' style of scathing comedy--even when it's at their expense. "Industry people come to the club all the time. They're not sensitive. Powerful people in Hollywood realize it's entertainment. They're bringing Ricky back because he's unpredictable, and I applaud them."
Still, there is one thing Gervais must absolutely do, Masada says.
"My advice? Be funny."
What do you think of Ricky's return? Will you be watching?
The 73rd Annual Golden Globes Awards will air Sunday Jan. 10 at 8/7c on NBC.