Complaints persist about venue options

The Oscars not only scored lower TV ratings, but the live audience gave the show’s venue less than dazzling reviews.

Audience members complained about the logistics at the Shrine Auditorium — particularly the foot traffic exiting the ceremony and trying to enter the Governor’s Ball in an adjacent hall — even more than last year, when the ceremony was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

And while the Acad most frequently holds its fete at the more glamorous Chandler, organizers continue to struggle with its small size (it seats around 3,200, not nearly enough to accommodate the 5,000 Academy members, plus media, nominees and other guests), as well as a tight period for rehearsals. Last year, for instance, the Acad barely had a chance for a dress rehearsal.

But the gripes about the 6,300-seat Shrine underscore a perplexing problem for the Acad and Los Angeles: It is the grandaddy of award shows, and the most watched spectacle in show business, but the city lacks the ideal venue. Some city boosters even call the Shrine “a huge barn.”

To be sure, Academy officials still express satisfaction with both Oscar locations, even with their faults. And from a TV standpoint, producer Gil Cates said he prefers the Chandler because of its character and intimacy, but called the Shrine “an excellent place to do a show.”

After years in which some celebs found themselves running through the streets around USC to make it to the Shrine, the city of Los Angeles tried this year to alleviate past problems with vehicle traffic at the Shrine, waiving about $100,000 in traffic control costs for the Oscars.

Said Arthur Hiller, the president of the Academy, about the Shrine and the Chandler: “Each one has a lot of virtues and each one has built-in problems.”

The show has a history of outgrowing its venues, whether by increase in membership or by the sheer amount of media attention. The Oscars started in 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt, and later went to the Pantages and other venues. They were held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium before landing at the Chandler in 1969. The Acad held its first Shrine ceremony in 1988, and generally tries to alternate between the two. (It returns to the Shrine in ’98.)

Privately, Acad staffers say the venues have logistical problems, and they would indeed be willing to look at suitable alternatives.

The question is: Are there any suitable alternatives?

In informal talk, suggestions have been made to look for other venues, such as the Universal Ampitheatre, the Forum, or even the Pond in Anaheim, although each has drawbacks that may prove more of a problem than moving from the Chandler or Shrine.

The Grammys, which had been a regular at the Shrine, began alternating with New York in recent years, and this year became the first major award show to hold its ceremonies in an arena: Madison Square Garden in Gotham. The look eastward was generally considered a slap in the face to the city of Los Angeles.

Yet a move to Gotham is highly unlikely for the Oscars. Los Angeles “is where the motion picture industry is,” Hiller said. “This is our home.”

But even a move elsewhere in Southern California would be politically charged. Said Lesa Slaughter, business development representative for Mayor Richard Riordan: “We would do absolutely everything to make sure they stay in Los Angeles.”

As Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., puts it: “That would be an act of war. Where would you take it?”

The latest option may be a proposed new sports arena for downtown Los Angeles, which would hold both hockey and basketball teams. The arena, to be built adjacent to the Los Angeles Convention Center, is slated to be ready in time for the 1999 season. And its developers, led by Majestic Realty, as well as city officials, have made no secret of the desire to lure back the Grammys and even attract the Oscars.

Yet while the Grammys successfully made the move to Madison Square Garden this year, officials in the movie academy have doubts such a venue — the proposed downtown auditorium is projected to seat 20,000 — would work for their event. What might be lost in a stadium is a sense that it is an industry event, one that is about friends “awarding other friends in the industry,” as Hiller says.

“It sounds like it would be too big for what we do,” Hiller said. “I feel we need a degree of intimacy. It is a family event.”

But, he adds, “It doesn’t mean something couldn’t be worked out,” such as building an “auditorium within an auditorium.”

The Universal Ampitheatre, which seats 6,521, would seem to be an ideal size, and has hosted the MTV Awards, the VH1 Honors and the Academy of Country Music Awards. Acad officials harbor doubts about its concert seating and stage. And the Ampitheatre is not exactly on neutral turf, being owned by and on the grounds of Universal Studios.

The Anaheim Pond general manager Brad Mayne says that they would have to overcome scheduling conflicts with sports events. The Disney-owned Mighty Ducks hockey team are a prime tenant. “Anything is possible,” Mayne said. “We definitely would be interested in having discussions.”

But Orange County, for the Oscars? Says Kyser: “Oh Jesus, no.”

Andrew Hindes contributor

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