EXCLUSIVE: Tom O’Neil on Reclaiming Goldderby.com

On Friday, after six years spent under the LATimes.com umbrella, awards season expert Tom O’Neil (pictured) bid farewell to TheEnvelope.com. It’s time, he enthused, to take his groundbreaking website Goldderby.com back onto the wide open expanse of the Web and run it independently.

FishbowlLA chatted with O’Neil via email to get a better sense of the operation. His executive editor, Paul Sheehan, is a former entertainment lawyer who returned to the Gold Derby fold in 2010 after freelancing for major newspapers and magazines. Together, they watch over a hand-picked team of senior editors.

“I recruited my editors from the smartest posters at the Gold Derby message boards over the past 11 years,” O’Neil explains. “By following the discussions there, I could see who really knew their stuff and who didn’t. I believe it’s much easier to take award experts and turn then into journalists than it is to take cocky, know-it-all journalists and turn them into award experts.”

“I don’t believe that 99.9% of Hollywood writers really know anything about awards,” he adds. “This year no one at the Hollywood Reporter, TheWrap, Deadline, the New York Times, TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly bothered to scrutinze what episodes were submitted by nominees to Emmy judges, but those episodes decide who wins and loses. However, my editors at GoldDerby can not only tell you what episodes the nominees entered this year, they can tell you what was submitted ten and 20 years ago and why those contenders won or lost.”

In fact, O’Neil has had a direct hand in some Emmy results. Around 2004, during a phone conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker, he convinced the actress to submit Part 2 of the Sex and the City finale rather than the episode “The Post-It Always Sticks Twice,” which she had planned to enter. Meanwhile, co-star Cynthia Nixon read some GD analysis by Chris “Boomer” Beachum, followed it and–like Parker that year–won. “When I saw Nixon backstage after the awards, she thanked me in person for GD helping her,” O’Neil remembers.

Last year, Neil Patrick Harris also publicly thanked “Boomer” at the Creative Emmy Awards after winning for hosting the Tony Awards.

It’s fascinating to think that one of the foremost experts on Hollywood awards season alongside O’Neil and Sheehan is a guy, Beachum, who by day works as an ad salesman in Tupelo, Mississippi. Another, Rob Licuria, is a lawyer, while Andrew Pickett earns his main keep in the cable TV industry. Only Sheehan and senior editor Daniel Montgomery presently work full-time for GD. Beachum did so during the lead-up to the 2011 Primetime Emmys, but is now back to part-time.

Goldderby.com offers a veritable Rube Goldberg maze of prognostication, with the separate points of view of editors, experts and users on the likelihood of both nominees and winners. When asked about the growing importance of Facebook and Twitter on the Oscar process (and the recent rule change that forbids Academy members from going social media crazy after 2011 nominations are announced), O’Neil suggests that these tools are another way for voters to become aware of, and follow, the direction of the Hollywood “herd.”