In search of next year’s Oscar host

For three consecutive years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has tried to reinvent the wheel with the Oscars and ended up on artistic blocks. So how will they fare next year?

The February 2011 show was the Academy’s biggest attempt to go young and hip, with James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and it tanked.

A year later, Brett Ratner was brought in to shake things up on the producing side, then found that choosing a producer who would offer uncensored personal thoughts in public wasn’t going to fly. After Ratner ankled the show, with host Eddie Murphy following him out the door, Billy Crystal returned an Old School approach. But that wasn’t by design – it was triage.

Then came Seth MacFarlane – whose efforts were loved by a staunch minority, not surprising since he and his producers set out to do an Oscars targeted for a staunch minority.

MacFarlane had made it clear long before the Oscars that this would be a one-time thing, so the fact that he confirmed on Twitter he won’t be back after the fact comes as no surprise – or even as news, I’d say.

However, since Sunday’s Oscarcast practically begged us to consider whether this year’s Golden Globes hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, might move over to next year’s Oscars, it’s noteworthy to learn that Fey has ruled out doing so, as Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post reports.

“I just feel like that gig is so hard,” Fey said. “Especially for, like, a woman — the amount of months that would be spent trying on dresses alone … no way. … I wish I could tell you there was (a chance).”

So where do the Academy Awards go from here?

Yes, the ratings for the Oscars ticked up this year, both in total viewers and in key demos, so it will be tempting for the Academy to consider that it was on the right track with MacFarlane – even to the point where you could argue that it doesn’t matter how liked he was. Talking to insiders as well as outsiders, no matter what they thought of MacFarlane, I found they kept watching the show, from start to finish.

At the same time, it can’t be lost on AMPAS that this was a rare recent Oscars with wide box office appeal: six films with more than $100 million in domestic box office and a seventh (“Zero Dark Thirty”) poised to go over the top. People were invested in the contenders, and that, more than the host (let alone the heavy emphasis on musical tributes) is logically why viewers turned on and never dropped out.

So look for the Academy, which will be under a new president next year after Hawk Koch’s term ends, to combine the best of both worlds: to do everything it can to ensure popular films reach the Oscars (no going back to five nominees), and to continue to pursue a host that will court younger audiences – with Fey and Poehler as the role models, even if they aren’t the actual folks on stage.

Who might next year’s host be?

Melissa McCarthy, who like Fey and Poehler first showed her awards spark at the Emmys (before she uncharacteristically struggled through her Oscar presenting assignment Sunday with Paul Rudd) is a tantalizing possiblity. She has an even broader film profile today than Fey, thanks to “Bridesmaids,” “This Is 40” and “Identity Thief,” and would also provide a welcome (yet far from politically correct) antidote to the boys’ club atmosphere developed at the Academy Awards, which have had two solo female hosts this century and none since Ellen DeGeneres in February 2007.

But it’s hard to imagine McCarthy fronting the Oscars on ABC, which holds the rights to the Oscars through 2020, before her association with rival CBS’ “Mike & Molly” ends, so it’s probably best to table that thought for now.

Neil Patrick Harris, who has already aced the Tonys and Emmys and who has youth-skewing credibility from TV to film (“Harold and Kumar”) and the web (“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), will be wrapping up the Eye’s “How I Met Your Mother” in spring 2014, so he’s also someone to keep an eye on for future years. Jane Lynch offers a similar profile, as soon as she’s free of Fox’s “Glee.”

We can keep scouring Solar System Hollywood for potential alternatives – I mean, if someone like Tom Hanks ever said he wanted to do it, that would be signed, sealed and delivered before brunch. And I wouldn’t rule out the non-ABC people entirely: MacFarlane’s signature show “Family Guy,” after all, is on Fox, though he’s not on camera in it.

However, it’s hard to escape the notion that the Occam’s razor choice to host next year’s Oscars is Jimmy Kimmel.

He’s an ABC personality. He has 18-49 cachet. He’s got a fairly well-received Emmys hosting gig from 2012 in his back pocket (not as dynamic as his peer Jimmy Fallon, but Fallon’s on NBC). He’s established a well-defined connection to the kudofest thanks to the tailor-made Oscar-night special editions of his talkshow. And now that he has moved “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to its new, pre-midnight timeslot, his next challenge awaits.

We’ll see. There’s plenty of time before the Academy arrives at a decision – last year’s MacFarlane announcement didn’t come until the first morning in October. AMPAS will consider its options, while Kimmel, if interested, would have to decide whether the massive time commitment needed for hosting the Oscars (whether the 2014 Winter Olympics push them to January or March) would be worth the potential mixed reviews he would receive.

Here are two suggestions, though, that might help Kimmel to a successful Oscar gig if he wants it. If you don’t seek out those dreary reviews as a self-fulfilling prophecy as MacFarlane and exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did, you might avoid them. And in the meantime, don’t wait to start touting box office hits as Oscar contenders on your talkshow.

Follow Awards Editor Jon Weisman on Twitter.

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  1. jkatz says:

    Interesting article about future Oscar hosts but in the scheme of things Seth was far from a ratings giant. The positive fact was that the younger viewership was up which is important to advertisers and thus subsequent Academy revenue.
    The facts are that for 2012 based on 2011 films, the majority of the films nominated were box office duds so the 39 million viewers in 2012 really tuned in to see Billy return. Unfortunately he did not update his act and came off like a Catskills type host. He was great during the 90’s.
    This year with major box office hits nominated they only pulled in an extra one million viewers which is not too impressive. Think back to 98’ and 55 million or even 2005 when weak box office but Chris Rock brought in over 42 million. Unfortunately many of the Oscar viewers have since passed. Of course if minorities were more represented in the film industry (i.e. editors, cinematographers, etc) that would help bring in additional viewers. Most industries are diversified (i.e. sports and music) but the movies have lagged behind somewhat.
    Seth tried but didn’t really cut it. One of the keys to the whole event is the opening and how the producers could not see that the Shatner thing was pathetic even in rehearsals is strange?
    3 hours should be the absolute cap time for the show and this year way too many musical numbers but a lot of effort exerted and great performances by Adelle, Hudson, Streisand and Bassey.
    Kimmel is a really good choice but McCarthy might work as right now she looks to be box office magic. Fey and Amy played well off each other and much better than Martin and Baldwin a few years ago so that could work too. Never rule out Queen Latifah who can be quite funny but just needs a hit film right now to ignite the career.
    I was always a big Whoopie Goldberg fan and thought she should be brought back but I guess they want a younger host to lure younger viewers. Interesting to note that the last time Bob Hope hosted he was 75 in ’78 but those were still the days of the depression generation who grew up with nothing but movies to escape to. When Oscar came to TV they were there in big numbers and of course all the numerous other “generic” award shows did not exist.

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