Oscars Needs Change, Bold Show to

As Academy mulls its future, it’s important to remember that the ceremony drives the entire org

Will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences please address the solid-gold elephant in the room?

At the first town hall meeting with AMPAS members on May 4, prexy Hawk Koch outlined some terrific ideas about updating the org and getting members’ feedback. It’s great news that the Acad is open to change, but let’s hope those in charge mean what they say.

He also said ratings proved that the February Oscarcast was a success. As execs and members rethink the basics, it’s time to take a look at the
show, which reps about $70 million a year to the Academy — the engine that drives everything.

I love the Academy and all of its members (well, some of them, anyway). So here’s some tough love. Make up your mind already. Either stick with tradition (presenting 24 awards on the air) or do something to significantly goose your ratings. You can’t do both.

Out of a 3½-hour show, only a half-hour is devoted to entertainment. The rest is the presentation of trophies. What filmmaker in Hollywood would ever dream of pitching an epic film by saying, “It’s three hours of dialogue, and 30 minutes of entertainment?”

Sorry, but you’re never going to win more viewers by accelerating the date of the telecast or hiring a hip host. The show is so predictable that by now everybody in the world knows what to expect — a lot of speeches in categories few people care about. Viewers will either tune in or not,
so cosmetic changes won’t matter.

So here’s some free, unsolicited advice. Be bold. Leave 10 “money categories” on the air; present the other awards during commercial breaks. Nominees in the 14 other categories will each get five whole minutes online to thank a zillion people and explain why his or her film was so special. That’s a lot more time than they would get on ABC.

Of course, the board is too wussy to do something this daring. No governor wants to be known as the person who allowed his branch to skip the airwaves. Academy reps for decades have insisted it’s an evening to celebrate ALL categories. Uh-huh. Actually, you forfeited that egalitarian approach when you made a broadcast deal, because a TV show means your first obligation is to entertain the 800 million TV viewers around the world, not placate your 6,000 members.

The Oscarcast is supposed to be a celebration of movies. Have a segment where Whoopi Goldberg interviews moviegoers in multiplexes about what pics they liked and why. Have Louis C.K. ask filmgoers in other countries what they imagine U.S. life is like, based on films they’ve seen. Get Stephen Colbert to watch the telecast with a Midwest family who offers running commentary on the host and the nominees.

In other words, pointing a bunch of cameras at a theater stage may have been amazing in 1953. But this ain’t 1953.

It’s Hollywood’s biggest movie night of the year, so it’s ironic that all key decisions about the show are dictated by TV, including date, running
time and, crucially, ratings.

If you want to uphold tradition, that’s great, but accept the fact that ratings will remain static. If you DO want to boost ratings and promote movies, take some creative risks and make the evening more fun. Inside the Dolby Theater, the audience appears to be having a great time, but TV rarely conveys that.

Here’s another idea: Don’t let the board OK every artistic decision on the show. Most of them are not showmen. Leave the Oscarcast to the TV professionals.

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