Move from pre-dawn to primetime overdue
Five thirty-eight a.m. is no time to be doing anything, least of all delivering the most important news in the film world outside of the Oscars themselves. Yet once again, 5:38 a.m. Pacific time on Jan. 10 is exactly when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will begin revealing the nominees for the 85th edition, once more taking news of global interest and relegating it to where the sun don’t shine. The early wakeup call announcing the nominations for the Oscars or other awards shows — once justified so the news could be trumpeted on the U.S. morning talkshows — has long since become unnecessary. So let me offer a different call — a call to arms against pre-dawn insanity. It’s time to move the nominations announcement to primetime. The logic is so obvious that I feel I shouldn’t have to explain. Reason 1: 5:38 a.m. Reasons 2 through 100: 5:38 a.m. (Yes, it’s 8:38 a.m. on the East Coast, but if AMPAS toppers want the Oscars to be the center of the universe, they should set their clock to their Hollywood home base, not Greenwich Village Mean Time.) But to address the skeptics — including some inside the Academy — let’s be clear that this isn’t just about a reporter wanting extra moments of shut-eye. It’s about the Academy doing itself a favor. For all its efforts to find the perfect date for its nominations and assert its supremacy in the awards universe, AMPAS is strangely slavish to the early morning hour, a relic of an era in which news was not effectively transmitted nationally between the signoff of “The Today Show” and the nightly greeting from Dan Rather, an era when the Internet didn’t exist and hours were needed to generate the most effective stories for print. Now, we live in a time in which “Breaking News” onscreen and online is a way of life, when dozens of channels are desperate for new material to feed the beast. Pick any moment, and all of the same outlets that set aside hours to cover the Oscars will drop what they’re doing for the noms announcement. So amid the ongoing insecurity about maintaining the Oscars’ relevance, especially to auds below the age of 65, shouldn’t the Acad pick a moment that actually has a chance of reaching them? That would be a true Big Man on Campus move. If the Oscars are the Acad’s Super Bowl, the noms are their conference championships. They are the big presidential debate before Election Day (5:38 does have that weird symbiosis with the Electoral College). And just as Obama wouldn’t debate Romney in the dawn’s early light, there’s no reason not to unleash the nominations at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. AMPAS could even expect to make a little extra coin on the side, were it to make an exclusive deal for the announcement with Oscar broadcast partner ABC. In this day and age, live programming is to die for on broadcast TV, and a unique offering like the Oscar noms would be worth a plunge. Of course, should the Academy choose not to put all its nomination eggs in ABC’s basket, it would have no trouble getting networks from CNN to E! to cover the reveal. Even allowing for the possibility that the broadcast nets would stick with their normal primetime fare, the Acad would still get bigger tune-in than it does in the ayem. The Internet would be ablaze, with the conversation continuing into the next day. And if the newspaper world can satisfactorily cover the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series just before midnight in Detroit, with a hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, somehow the print world can make this all work. I say all this with the belief that the Academy doesn’t even need to add a lot of bells and whistles to juice the nighttime broadcast, as the Grammys have with their successful move to a primetime announcement special. Bring on a spotlight-ready host — Jennifer Lawrence filled the bill this past January — and treat the announcement like the news that it is. That said, the primetime reveal offers a golden opportunity to serve the Academy brand with a more stylized show, featuring live appearances from past winners, salutes, clip packages or comedy hijinx. Of course, the Academy can’t betray favoritism among the potential nominees, but that’s an easily surmountable hurdle. The current plan is to stick with the beginning of the day, evoking the veritable dark ages of television. It’s a plan that looks backward instead of forward, and whatever virtues it might cling to, it ultimately sells the Oscars short.