When Billy Crystal tweeted that he’d be hosting the Oscars today, it didn’t come as a surprise, considering the hot water the Academy has found itself in over the last few days. Not only does Crystal have the crucial stand-up comedy experience, but he’s the safe populist bet that the Academy needs to help everyone forget about all the controversy.
He’s certainly not the guy to bring in the young demographic that the Academy needs to keep ABC happy in the ratings department, but most insiders think the ratings depend more on the films in competition. Nominating a film like “The Help,” which cuts across traditional demographics and performed well at the box office, is considered a better boost for ratings than the host. It’s not that the host doesn’t matter, but… As producer Don Mischer points out, after all the awards are handed out, there’s only 32 minutes of discretionary time for anyone to play with in the telecast. That’s not a lot of time to make it or break it with an audience, particularly when it’s spread out over three and a half hours of primetime.
Choosing Crystal as host also proves that the Academy is more concerned with maintaining the ceremony’s tradition than it is with appealing to a younger audience. In other words, their goals are in direct conflict with each other. Yes, they want to continue to receive their $80 million license fee from ABC every year, so they want to make it worth the network’s while, even if the show does air outside of sweeps. The Academy also wants to uphold tradition and retain the exclusivity associated the golden guy, which leaves little room for changing anything about it. (It’s not like the 18-24 demo thinks awards ceremonies are must-see TV, after all.)
Sure, Crystal has been funny in previous Oscar shows, but his comedy is geared toward the people sitting in the seats of the Kodak Theatre more than the people watching from home. He’s not the bold choice that Academy president Tom Sherak spoke of when he launched his failed Ratner experiment. In fact, it seems unlikely that there will be anything bold happening for a while — anyone would be averse to change after this week.
What Crystal does have in his favor is that 1) He’s been actively campaigning for the job all year; 2) He’s done it eight times before, so he knows the drill; 3) He will keep the audience smiling, if not laughing uncontrollably; and 4) He’s unlikely to put his foot in his mouth at a q&a or in an interview with Howard Stern.