Acad taps 'Smash' duo for 85th kudos

Bringing a diverse production background but one heavily steeped in live and filmed musicals, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have been tapped to produce the 85th Academy Awards, marking the pair’s first involvement with a live kudocast.

Zadan and Meron exec produced 2002’s “Chicago,” which won six Oscars among its 13 nominations and became the first musical to triumph for best picture in 34 years. Film credits also include remakes of “Hairspray” and “Footloose.” For TV, they have been exec producing NBC musical drama “Smash,” and on Broadway, they recently produced the revivals of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Promises, Promises.”

But Meron and Zadan told Variety that the breadth of their resumes, which also includes such feature and TV movies as “The Bucket List” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” would serve them well as they take on this new challenge. Together, the duo have earned 73 Emmy noms, 12 for the Tonys and seven for the Grammys.

“We’ve been able to stretch and flex muscles in so many different ways by the diversity of what we’ve worked on, and we hope we can bring all these resources to the Oscars,” Zadan said. “Of course, we’ve done a lot of very special stuff with music, and I would assume the Oscar show would reflect that musical aspect as well as others.”

Added Meron: “Craig’s and my background is with live theater, and I think producing theater is really great preparation for doing live events. It’s an exciting challenge.”

The pair succeed Brian Grazer and Don Mischer, who stepped in to produce the 84th Oscars after Brett Ratner resigned under pressure in November for controversial remarks, three months after getting the assignment. Zadan and Meron are the first producers selected by newly elected Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences prexy Hawk Koch.

“They have an incredible track record of producing exciting movies, and they also have it for television and theater — and they have great taste. I expect them to turn all of that into a great Oscar show,” Koch said.

Acad CEO Dawn Hudson added that the duo “have great talent relationships and bring an infectious energy to the production, (and) are creative producers in the best sense of the word.”

Koch contacted the producers right after he assumed his new post. Meron offered that they had “an extremely emotional reaction” to their selection for the Oscar duties.

“The level of surprise is through the roof,” Meron said. “It’s one of those things: We’ve had a good career and an active career and are not really sitting by the phone, but at same time, it’s one of those moments you’re so thrilled the phone does ring.

“(To) become one of those people that’s part of this incredible legacy — that’s really indescribable to me.”

Zadan indicated that initial conversations about the upcoming Oscars, scheduled for Feb. 24 and airing on ABC, immediately took on a collaborative nature. “We shared with (Koch) some of the concepts and visions we have for the show,” Zadan said, “which he liked a lot, and he shared some of his ideas, which we liked a lot.”

Said Koch: “There were three producers talking. We collaborated really well. … we were on the same wavelength.”

While adding that it would be premature and “unfair to the process” to discuss their vision in detail, Zadan said they’ve already given years of thought to the matter.

“I can tell you that Neil and I have been talking among ourselves for a decade,” Zadan said. ” ‘What if, one day, if they ever called us, what would we do?’ So we’ve come up with so many fun ideas that we were really attracted to and just stored them, hoping.

“We know we’re on the right path. We know we are the right team — me, Neil and Hawk — but as far as what we’re going to do (or) how we’re going to do things differently, it’s impossible to say (at this point).”

Discussing previous Oscarcasts, Meron said, “Sometimes you love the hosts, sometimes the emotional speeches, the film packages — it varies from show to show. Overall, there’s something special about every broadcast — some more than others, obviously — but something to point to and say is great.”

Zadan noted that his relationship with Koch is at once old and new.

“I met Hawk in 1980 when I was a baby executive at United Artists and he was the producer of a movie called ‘The Idolmaker,’ and we worked together then — and then we haven’t really worked together since,” Zadan said. “We’ve only known him from running into events and knowing him through his work at the Producers Guild.

“The collaboration (is going to be) thrilling. Do we have any real relationship with him? We do now.”

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