Let’s be clear: We’re not wishing failure on this year’s Oscar telecast or predicting that host Ellen DeGeneres will bomb. When it comes to the Oscars, we’re always hopeful, like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin or an L.A. resident dreaming of decent public transportation. And then the show starts and Seth MacFarlane spends 16 minutes making a joke about how he’s going to fail at the job and then goes on to do just that for the next three hours and … mmmph … it’s wait ’til next year.
But it’s going to be different on March 2, right? Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are back on the job, as is DeGeneres, returning as host seven years after her first turn. We’re sure they’re going to put all that experience to good use. But, you know, just in case, here are a few ideas for a more perfect night, both for this year and the future.
Ramp up the energy, Ellen. We enjoyed your low-key charm back in ’07. Asking Steven Spielberg to snap your picture with Clint Eastwood? Adorbs. But there’s a fine line between unpretentious and just a little dull. Don’t let MacFarlane’s failure last year keep you from stirring the pot. As long as you’re funny, no one will mind the barbs. (Publicly, at least.)
Pick a host. Then stay the course. We’ve gone from the “OMG! Oscars heart young people” Anne Hathaway / James Franco debacle to nostalgic, Old Hollywood Billy Crystal (“We’ve cornered the 70- to 85-year-old market!”) then, last year, to naughty (MacFarlane) to this year’s return to nice. The Golden Globes, meanwhile, are enjoying record ratings, having established a consistent tone by employing the same great hosts year after year. (Ricky Gervais ran things from 2009 to 2011; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are signed next year for a third straight go-round.) The audience knows what to expect and actually looks forward to what’s coming. Crazy, huh?
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So, if DeGeneres kills it this year, bring her back. If not, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to find the 21st century equivalent of Crystal, Johnny Carson and Bob Hope — hosts who skillfully presided over the Oscars for years. Since ABC has the telecast through 2020, it’s not going to be Jimmy Fallon, who amped up the fun as Emmy host in 2010. So why not Jimmy Kimmel, who, at the 2012 Emmys, displayed a winning goofiness that played both at home and the room itself?
Change the venue. “The Oscars used to be a good time,” says Robert Osborne, author of “85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.” “But that was back in the early years when it was a banquet and people used to be able to eat and drink and relax. It was a party everyone wanted to attend. Now no one wants to go unless they have to.”
So why not move it back to a ballroom? Scaling back on the starchiness of a theater setting would do wonders for the vibe in the room and, by extension, the show itself. If, as Tina Fey tells the Los Angeles Times, “high levels of stress are shooting out of just about everyone” at the Oscars, a cocktail — or a plate of Wolfgang Puck appetizers — might help.
Keep it at three hours. The Oscars used to clock in under three hours regularly. Then, beginning in 1974, the show began to stretch, immune to the plight of East Coast viewers and sentient life-forms unsympathetic to canned banter. Osborne attributes the bloat to added performance numbers and actors who believe that time limits for speeches “apply to everyone else but them.”
So how do you trim the fat?
Move the shorts categories. They exist to honor up-and-comers — and to screw up everyone’s Oscar pools. But how about a separate ceremony where the work can be celebrated at greater length and mentorships can be established?
Not all songs are created equal. And songwriters would be the first to tell you this. Some songs fit nicely within the context of a film but aren’t exactly performance showstoppers. Others, like Adele’s “Skyfall,” rank as moments that will draw viewers. This year’s plan to have all four of the nominees perform might seem like overkill, but it’s a good call. U2 — can’t go wrong. Karen O’s tender, bittersweet “The Moon Song” will get the home viewers to stop chatting and pay attention. “Frozen’s” “Let It Go”? That’ll get the kids to watch. Pharrell Williams? Great, his hat could bring in an audience all on its own.
Streamline the best picture introductions. Or eliminate them altogether. How about just a clip reel pingponging between great moments from all the nominated movies?
Do keep the “In memoriam” tribute, though it can celebrate without being so somber. May we suggest that someone (Karen O?) sing “We’ll Meet Again”? It’s sentimental without being maudlin, and Stanley Kubrick liked it enough to put it in the last scene of “Dr. Strangelove.” Now that is movie magic.