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Bring on the speeches, awards season is here

Whether its members truly would traverse the Alps for a free hot dog is still open to debate.

Nevertheless, here comes the freebie-loving, ever-secretive Hollywood Foreign Press Association with the 61st edition of its Golden Globe awards. Expect the usual impressive turnout of feature film and television A-listers fortified with dinner and drinks before NBC's live telecast begins at 8 tonight.

Also expect an early glimpse of the newest Miss Golden Globe. She's 17-year-old Lily Costner, daughter of Kevin Costner and his ex-wife, Cindy Silva. Traditionally, Miss Golden Globe, who assists in the Golden Globes ceremony, is the daughter of a celebrity. Believe it or not, Melanie Griffith and Laura Dern are among the previous Miss Golden Globes. Remarkably, Tori Spelling is not.

This year's ceremonies will be held just two days before Oscar nominees are announced on Tuesday. The Globes have gained more respectability in recent years, but its voters and voting procedures remain a largely unsolved mystery. The Golden Globes: Hollywood's Dirty Little Secret, a snarky, juicy Trio cable network documentary being repeated at noon and 7 p.m. today, makes a game effort to get at the foggy bottom of things. But no prominent stars are willing to openly criticize the Globes.

CBS used to televise the Golden Globes ceremony, but dropped out after Pia Zadora won a "New Star of the Year" award in 1982 for her performance in the soft core adult film Butterfly. It was alleged that Zadora's multimillionaire husband had bought votes by wining and dining members in Las Vegas and at his home. The show remained on cable until 1996, when NBC bought broadcasting rights to what's proved to be a reliable ratings performer replete with unpredictable behavior by the stars.

"There's kind of a loose, free-spirited feel to the whole evening," director Ron Howard said during red carpet arrivals at a previous telecast.

The Dirty Little Secret documentary says that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association had just 96 full-time members in 2003, with only about one-third of them employed as full-time journalists. Even so, the Golden Globes choices have been generally respectable in recent years. In the television division for instance, Globes voters have had the good sense to honor HBO's The Sopranos as best drama series. The acclaimed mob drama criminally is still awaiting its first Emmy award in that category.

Last year's telecast was spiced by a hard-core vulgarism from U2 singer Bono, causing NBC affiliates to ask for a 30-second delay on this year's ceremony to ensure there's no repeat. Be assured, though, that something unexpected will happen during a ceremony that four-time winner Robin Williams once described as "kind of like foreplay for the Oscars."

Actually, they're kind of like foreplay for the rest of the awards season, which grows exponentially along with the public fascination for celebrities and (especially) what they wear. Here's when and where to catch more such extravaganzas:

GRAMMY AWARDS: Honoring music, Feb. 8, 8 p.m., WTSP-Ch. 10.

SCREEN ACTORS GUILD AWARDS: Movies, TV, Feb. 22, 8 p.m., TNT.

INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS: Independent movies, Feb. 28, 10 p.m., Bravo.

ACADEMY AWARDS: Movies, Feb. 29, 8 p.m., WFTS-Ch. 28.