Variety editorial

Tradition is a good thing, and it’s understandable that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC want to maintain a sense of continuity in the Oscarcast. But there’s a fine line between “traditional” and “stodgy.”

Sunday’s Oscarcast saw a rise in ratings, but was it enough? The Academy and ABC may have to admit that viewer dropoff over the past years may not have been solely due to the proliferation of other awards shows, but to the predictability of the kudocast, which is theoretically Hollywood’s greatest opportunity to promote the fun, excitement and artistry of the film business.

And what did viewers get? A telecast that ran for three and a half hours; winners reciting laundry lists of names; static musical performances; two presenters who were ostensibly doing comedy but who were actually offering a shameless promo of their movie, “Starsky & Hutch”; a preshow in which Billy Bush terrorized celebs on the red carpet.

Yes, there were some highlights (Jack Black & Will Farrell), but were they enough? Despite the presence of a fresh producer, Joe Roth, and a popular host, Billy Crystal, the show was hobbled by fundamental limitations of format and hidebound protocol.

But instead of arguing the case that the Oscars are broke, here are a few ways to fix them:

  • Nix the fringe stuff. Sorry, all you short-film lovers (both of you). These categories do not deserve equal time alongside awards for directing or screenplay. And can’t a few of the tech categories be repackaged? Having John Travolta become the third consecutive sound presenter to take condescending jabs at the nominees doesn’t do honor to anybody.

  • We get the picture. How many viewers find value in those bloated recaps of the best-picture nominees? In the monsoon of Oscar hype, does anyone not know the story of “Seabiscuit”? Eliminiating those clips would save at least 10 minutes.

  • Move it along. Crystal’s tradition of song parodies built around the best-picture nominees is unfailingly witty. But combined with a monologue and spoof film clips, it burns 20 minutes at the start of the show. No host can command an Oscar audience for that long.

  • Break the mold. The Oscars have a tradition to uphold — but they would benefit from some fresh ideas. This year’s show took steps in the right direction with cameras inside the theater as attendees arrived. Break up the stodginess with some innovative new looks, as long as that doesn’t mean shots of Peter Coyote at a backstage podium.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, you can stay. That’s one tradition we endorse.

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