Oscar time will arrive early

At 5:38 a.m. Tuesday, the kudos season shifts into Phase Two as Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Frank Pierson and Marisa Tomei will announce nominees for the 75th Oscars.

Hanging on their every word while sitting in the audience will be 500 individuals, including studio workers, Oscar campaigners and reps from 200 media outlets.

All three network morning shows, CNN, E! and the BBC will air live coverage of announcements of 10 categories (picture, director, script, foreign-language film, etc.).

Immediately after the announcements, Acad staffers hand out press kits with the complete lists, and campaigning begins again as studios and contenders map out plans for the next five weeks.

Historical reference

The idea of turning the noms into a live TV event goes back to 1955. After getting huge ratings for the first two televised Oscar shows, NBC figured the nominations announcement could garner big numbers as well, so it was done as a primetime show.

A few eager (and sometimes tipsy) nominees gathered at nightclubs around town to hear Louella Parsons and others read their names. But after two years, this short-lived ritual was dropped.

Nearly 30 years later in 1987, the Acad revived the live announcement gambit by convincing all three nets to broadcast it on their East Coast-based morning shows.

Everyone will gather at the Acad’s lobby, to be admitted to the Samuel Goldwyn Theater upstairs about 40 minutes before the announcements.

The hour is painful for those attending, but Academy publicity coordinator Leslie Unger points out that the Acad serves a buffet breakfast in its lobby to ease the pain. There is also an open bar — and a surprising number of people take advantage of it.

According to Unger, more than 100 requests for credentials were turned down this year.

“Interest in attending and covering in person has continued to grow each year, but unfortunately our theater hasn’t,” she said. Unger adds that security procedures since 9/11 have been heightened as well, with background checks and photos for everyone approved for a credential.

In November, the Acad sent out applications for press credentials to cover the announcements and started gathering publicity materials on potential contenders from the studios.

Like a fortress

At about 9 p.m. tonight, two dozen staffers, including Acad execs Bruce Davis, Ric Robertson and John Pavlik, will go into lockdown on the building’s upper floors. Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers will bring its typed-up results and Acad staffers will make 1,200 copies, to be included in press kits that will also contain comments about the nominees.

“Everyone who is in the building at 9 p.m. cannot leave,” said Unger. “All of our telephones are shut off, fax line modems are disabled, and people are requested not to bring cell phones into the facility. We take it very seriously.”

A few crews are allowed in the theater on Monday, but most crews wait until 12:30 a.m. Tuesday. They can work until 3:30 a.m., when the theater is locked down and Pierson and Tomei will rehearse, coordinating their readings with the slides that will pop up behind them.

After the announcements, the real chaos starts, as everyone tries to hook up the media with the nominees.

“Everyone needs to know where their (nominees) are, to get them maximum exposure,” said MRC’s Michele Robertson, a marketing and PR campaign consultant for Focus Features, among others. “Getting reaction out there is just the first part of the process of being nominated and it’s important, especially in a competitive year like this.”

Want Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger or Rob Marshall? They’re in Paris. Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine? London. Meryl Streep and Martin Scorsese? Ready to make statements in New York. Julianne Moore, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates? Los Angeles.

As one “ET” producer puts it, “Anybody willing to show their gratitude to the Academy will certainly find a place to do it on our show.”

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