Jon Stewart back in hot seat as show host

The Academy Awards ceremony is set for Feb. 24, but now that the writers’ strike has become a reality, it may well take some of the luster off the golden proceedings, although the writers and producers have agreed to return to the bargaining table Nov. 26 but the final outcome is anyone’s guess.

So just how will the strike impact the broadcast if the worst happens and it drags on into early 2008? Does the Academy have contingency plans if the strike muzzles the show’s writers and host?

“I make no comment on the strike at all,” says Gil Cates, the show’s producer and chairman of the negotiating committee for the DGA. But Cates is more than happy to discuss the show, although if he has anything special up his sleeve, he’s not telling — as usual.

“We’ll have some surprises,” he promises. “Obviously there’ll be some nod to the fact that it’s the 80th, but it’s not quite the same milestone as the 75th, where we made a big deal about it.”

Returning as host for the second time is “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart. Critics were less than impressed with his 2006 debut, but Cates is quick to defend Stewart, noting, “He’s snappy, very fast, and he comes with a lot of IQ, so we can expect that part of the show will be terrific.”

“I think every host should do what they do best,” says producer Laura Ziskin, who tapped Whoopi Goldberg for the ’02 show and Ellen DeGeneres for the most recent one. “I really wanted (’07) to

honor all the nominees and to make it a big party, and Ellen had absolutely the right sensibility for me. She’s warm, inclusive and not cynical, and that’s the mood I was after. But Jon Stewart does a different thing, and the fact that it’s an election year makes it very interesting, so I hope he’ll be the Jon Stewart we know and love.”

Many in Hollywood feel that hosting the Oscars is a thankless task. So was it hard persuading Stewart to return?

“Not at all,” Cates insists. “He had a good time, he enjoyed it, and the audience really enjoyed him.

“But,” he continues, “you have to take into account three reactions to a host: There’s the critical reaction, the audience reaction in the theater, and then the popular TV audience reaction — and the latter also ties in with the ratings. With Letterman, many critics felt he was too much of an outsider. With Chris Rock, the ratings were terrific, but some people felt he went too far. So you really can’t win.

“I love it because it reminds me of the seven years I spent doing circus shows around the world,” Cates says.

“They’re similar in a lot of ways, and I remember when Fellini was being given an honorary Oscar, and he asked me what I enjoyed so much about the show, so I took him down to the Shrine for rehearsal and he stood onstage and went, ‘Now I know — it’s a circus!’ And it is. It’s a great job. You get to interact with everyone in Hollywood, and you don’t need lengthy contracts or have to deal with agents, lawyers and managers to get George Clooney or Redford, Streisand and Tom Cruise. Everyone wants to be on the show.”

STRIKE IMPACT

  • Will John Stewart cross picket lines to host?

  • Show script: Oscarcast uses huge team of writers.

  • Will producers opt for waivers?

  • Will stars cross picket lines?

  • Upside: It may draw more viewers hoping to witness a red carpet confrontation.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more