What were you doing the evening of Feb. 26, 2017? I was at home and I wasn’t watching the Academy Awards. I was probably watching the Chicago Blackhawks game that night, when the team was actually good.
But I remember seeing on my Twitter feed later that night people talking about the huge mistake made during the Oscars’s Best Picture award—La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner when the Oscar should have gone to Moonlight. The mistake was corrected but what an embarrassing moment for all involved. Then people on Twitter started pointing fingers at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that has overseen the counting of the Oscars ballots for 83 years, for giving the Best Picture award presenters, Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, the wrong envelope.
I was working for AccountingWEB at the time, and I had seen before on Going Concern (AWEB and GC used to be sister sites) articles about PwC being the outfit that tabulated votes for the Oscars. Ooops. Sucks for PwC, but at that time I really didn’t care much about what had happened. AWEB didn’t really cover accounting news (or news of Big 4 firms screwing up major TV award shows) that much, so I knew I wouldn’t have to write anything about the mess PwC caused.
But over at Going Concern, Caleb and Adrienne had a field day in the aftermath of the PwC Oscars debacle. ICYMI at the time, here’s just some of the coverage Going Concern gave #envelopegate in the days, weeks, months, and even a year after it happened:
- And the Award For Worst Oscars Gaffe Goes To… PwC (Feb. 27, 2017)
- Here Are Some of the Best Tweets Roasting PwC for #EnvelopeGate (Feb. 27, 2017)
- PwC’s Recruiting Will Take a Hit Over the Oscars Debacle (March 1, 2017)
- PwC Keeps the Oscars Gig (March 29, 2017)
- Talking About Race, Mega Lawsuits, That Oscars Screw-up and More: A Conversation With PwC’s Tim Ryan (June 27, 2017)
- PwC Not Talking Up Its Role in the Academy Awards This Year, Obviously (Feb. 1, 2018)
- #Envelopegate Redux: PwC Failed to Predict the Worst-Case Scenario (March 1, 2018)
Greg Kyte even drew a cartoon mocking PwC and now ex-partner and “ballot leader” Brian Cullinan, whose head you can see the back of just right of center in the gif above as he’s panic peeing in his tux on stage. Behind him is fellow PwC partner and ballot counter Martha Ruiz (you can see a flash of the red dress she wore that night and the top of her head in the gif).
But despite being the butt of A LOT of jokes after the incident happened, five years later PwC is still counting Oscars ballots, making money hand over fist,
brainwashing recruiting gullible accounting students to come work for them, and is considered by many as the most prestigious of the Big 4. And Tim Ryan survived that whole mess and is still sitting on the chairman’s throne. In short, everything is fine at PwC.
Those of you who worked at PwC five years ago, were you watching the Oscars that night? If you weren’t, how did you find out about the colossal screw-up? What were you thinking at that time? Feel free to flood the comment section with your remembrances of that night or get in touch with us using the contact info below.
I watched it live and knew almost immediately that PWC had fucked up. Every year there are articles in advance of the Oscars about PWC’s foolproof ballot counting system. There are so many checks, and double checks, and triple checks. The articles asserted that it’s impossible for something to go wrong. So for this reason, I knew it was highly unlikely that the envelope was wrong. The most likely cause of the fuck up was that the partner gave the presenters the wrong envelope. What made things exponentially worse was that both partners failed to run out onto the stage (as all the news articles said was part of the foolproof procedures) when they knew that they’d fucked up. They both just stood there, frozen, on opposite sides of the stage shitting themselves.
In the hours and days after, things only got worse. It was revealed that the lead partner had a big Oscars party at his house on the Saturday night before the show every year. He was a starfucker, regularly bragging to his friends and colleagues about all of his celebrity interactions. He was backstage at the Oscars tweeting, when he should have been focusing on passing out envelopes. And, of course, PWC had gone so far to the point of shameless self-promotion to squeeze every last bit of attention they could out of their Oscars gig for marketing purposes. It was a bomb just waiting to go off.
What still burns me to this day is that neither partner got fired, or severely punished, other than being removed from the Oscars account. When a staff at PWC has a fuck up 100x less bad than what these partners did, the firm boots their ass so fast their head spins. I wasn’t surprised that PWC somehow managed to save the engagement by groveling to the Academy, but as you can see, there is almost no mention of PWC and the Oscars in recent years, and PWC does almost nothing to advertise its involvement with the show. However, I’m confident that if the Oscars are still a thing 20 years from now, PWC will once again start trying to maximize its benefit from the Oscars, and the great fuck up of 2017 could happen again. That’s just the world we live in now.
I couldn’t agree more with the above comment. I am an alum (manager) of PWC and I always feared that the lead partner, Brian Cullinan, would one day screw this up. He seemed more interested in positioning himself next to the stars and taking selfies, tweeting them to his minions. A clear violation of the Academy’s stated protocol. The Matt Damon look alike, so they bragged, had even tried to bribe the producer to include a segment of him in the show. Imagine that. He forgot, or didn’t care, about doing the only thing he was hired to do; hand out an envelope. How hard can that be. My dog would have done it correctly, and she doesn’t even read. He should have been fired for this and required to turn in his shares. He embarrassed the Firm and everyone associated with PWC, not because of this mistake but because this mistake would have never happened had he been doing his job and not trying to impress his friends.
I know PWC has been counting these envelops forever, but maybe that should be the only task they should be assigned. Leave the briefcases home, stay off the red carpet, fade into the sunset after the counting is finalized. Leave the heavy lifting, handing the correct envelope to the proper presenter, to someone competent. And the failsafe backup procedure obviously was a joke. Why? Because it did not include the participants of the screw-up pissing in their pants and freezing.
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