I love the Oscars, love the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, love the work they do, love the staff and the members. (Well, some members.)But it’s time for tough love. Folks: Ya gotta overhaul the Oscarcast. It’s hard to present 20-plus awards and keep the show entertaining. So present half the awards off-camera. The show plays like gangbusters for the 3,000 people at the Kodak Theater. But what about the 800 million at home? Can we make some concessions to them? With the first Oscar telecast on March 19, 1953, the Academy set the template for the format: Audience sits in a big auditorium and watches winners go to the stage to make speeches. Despite dozens and dozens of imitation kudocasts since then, nobody has changed the system much. The Academy board has continually resisted proposals for off-camera awards. Each of the Academy’s branches has three board members, and nobody wants to be the one who “betrayed” his compatriots by agreeing that their branch could be honored off-camera. But steadily declining ratings for the Oscarcast in recent years tell the tale. The turnout for this year’s 80th annual ceremony fell to a record low of 32 million viewers. The Oscars are supposed to reflect the moviegoing experience. While I love short films (live-action, animated, docu), how often do you see them on the bigscreen? For most filmgoers, they’re as anachronistic as Movietone newsreels and Dish Night. So put those categories online, along with a bunch of other “non-money” categories. (The Acad could rotate them each year so that some are included in the telecast.) The Acad could commission short films for the online categories, explaining the work and profiling all the nominees, so they wouldn’t be on TV but they’d get more attention. With a pared-down presentation, there would be more time for entertainment. Some free tips:
- Acknowledge some of the year’s big money-makers by having clips of stars and filmmakers talking about them.
- Do remote-camera segments to prove there is life beyond the Kodak. Use a flurry of hosts: Chris Rock backstage interviewing presenters and winners, Whoopi Goldberg in a Midwest home getting some family to offer critiques of the Oscarcast they’re watching. Ellen DeGeneres in a multiplex asking film fans why they’re not at home watching the Oscars.
- Do a segment on international films. Show moments from the year’s top pics in dubbed versions, and send someone to multiplexes around the world and ask moviegoers what they envision life in the U.S. to be like, based on films they’ve seen.