An Oscar Voter Challenges Variety’s Suggestions to Fix the Show (Guest Column)

Oscar Ratings

Can the Motion Picture Academy Do Anything Right?

Feldman is a former studio executive, awards consultant, and 27-year member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ public relations branch. His views are his own.

We’ve heard it all before.

When it comes to the Academy Awards broadcast, everyone’s a critic. The show is too long. The jokes are lame. The wrong films were nominated. Everyone knows what’s wrong with the telecast and has at least one idea about how to fix it.

Luckily for the Motion Picture Academy, ABC, Hollywood in general and those of us who toil in it, many members of the press have lots of ideas. In Ramin Setoodeh’s Feb. 24 Variety essay “How to Fix the Oscars in Five Easy Steps,” for example, the journalist proposes improvements to save a ceremony that he says is “facing an identity crisis” as it becomes “more and more insular” each year.

To explain what he means by this, Setoodeh bemoans “the gap between the movies that win the Oscars (‘Birdman’ with its relatively small box office of $37 million) and movies that general audiences love to watch (‘The Guardians of the Galaxy,’ ‘Captain America 2’).”

What’s wrong with this picture? For years Academy voters took a drubbing from the press for ignoring serious and independent movies. That changed in the mid-1980s when films like “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “The Trip to Bountiful” received multiple nominations and won Oscars. Now that we’re taking the high road, along comes a reporter to chastise us for doing what the media exhorted us to do and what an academy of professionals is supposed to do: honor achievement in filmmaking rather than popularity.

We would all like to see the Oscar broadcast be more successful, but thoughtful Academy Awards voters aren’t willing to trade their votes for bigger TV ratings. And while Setoodeh’s “gap” may indeed account for a declining audience, there also are external factors the reporter overlooks: the proliferation of awards shows resulting in what some have called “awards fatigue,” the dwindling role even crowd-pleasing movies play in our cultural life, the years-long decline in TV viewing overall.

Here’s another one of Setoodeh’s “easy” fixes: He wants the broadcast “tightened” by eliminating Oscars for short films and documentaries, a suggestion that has been around for many years and against which the Academy rightfully resists. It’s illogical to call the Oscars “a celebration of all facets of the movie-making business,” as Setoodeh does, and then exclude certain types of movies from the mix.

This brings us to what the reporter characterizes as the “hosting crisis,” which is an overwrought way of heaping blame on every entertainer who has or might one day front the show other than Setoodeh’s personal favorite (and apparent Oscar night savior) Jimmy Fallon. It’s not at all clear why Setoodeh is so certain that Fallon will prevail where so many others have failed. Is he more talented than Chris Rock or Whoopi Goldberg?

Setoodeh criticizes the Academy membership itself for being “un-hip.” Ouch! His solution: the wholesale addition of “thousands” of younger members to the Academy’s rolls in order to “shake up” the voting. Whether in the arts, sciences or any other field, a professional academy by its very nature is always going to be an older, more experienced group. Individuals must have achieved years of distinction in their fields before they can even apply for membership.

All of this begs the one central, unanswered question in Setoodeh’s critique: what and whose view of the world should the Academy Awards reflect? Setoodeh insists on a cursory populist, ceremony, one in which the host plays games with celebrities and belts out songs (Setoodeh’s words). Academy members have higher expectations: an entertaining evening, yes, but also one that recognizes artistry, commitment and accomplishment first and foremost.

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  1. Cynthia says:

    It’s encouraging to read such a thoughtful well written article about the Oscars. Bruce, kudos.

  2. mtneer75 says:

    There’s nothing wrong with the Oscars…it’s all the other televised award shows, Golden Globes, SAG etc that have taken the suspense out of who’s going to win.

  3. byllebreaux says:

    People should leave the Oscars alone. It’s human nature to want to trash something you havn’t earned the right to be apart of but I am so grateful for how the Academy Awards work. I usually agree with the picks and the nominations because I understand this art. It’s perfect…leave it alone.

  4. Michelle Mower says:

    Yes! Our media culture is being hacked by clickbait journalism. So glad someone stood up for excellence in the industry, and for the documentary and short filmmakers who don’t get the big dollar deals. Thank you, Mr. Feldman!

  5. It comes down to the same thing as before Only a thought provoking (or maybe not, might be just a pretender) low budget movie should be acceptable for an award. A big budget extremely well made entertaining film is just to grab consumers dollars because gee, only the Academy members know what’s really worthy. You guys don’t even consider entertainment pictures anymore absolutely regardless of quality. It’s an automatic snub anymore which means your snubbing the very audiences who keep the studios in business. Paint it any way you want. It still amounts to film snobbery.

  6. Jason says:

    Bravo, Bruce! I agree with every word you say.

  7. Gregg says:

    I actually like the Oscars ceremony the way it is, and I think many others feel the same way.

    I love how the writer of the original article points out The Grammy’s as something to be sought after, yet there are only a handful of actual awards given out, that show has seen fore more decline in viewership than the Oscars, and lets not even get into it being the only awards show that still tape delayed to the west coast.

    As for the “more popular movies need to be nominated”, there is an incredibly easy fix for this. Add another category. You have “Best Actor/Actress/Director/Movie for a Drama” and you have “Best Actor/Actress/Director/Movie for a non-Drama”. Don’t call it Comedy or Musical like the Globes, having a non-Drama category opens up the field to so many more movies.

    I don’t think the Best Supporting categories need this as they usually do a good job of nominating different kinds of movies.

  8. JSB says:

    Why is anyone in public relations even IN the Academy? This organization, I thought was for FILMMAKERS.

    • EK says:

      Why don’t you ask its current two-term President that, or Sid Ganis or Dick Kahn? You, dear boy, are an ignorant jerk who doesn’t seem to understand the role PR branch members play in the industry. I dare say that Bruce’s years in the business stand him in very good stead to pen this piece, whether you think him qualified or not.

  9. skippress says:

    If the presenter for the Best Picture Oscar says “Who gave that son of a bitch a green card?” how is that recognizing artistry, commitment and accomplishment, Bruce? I remember when David Niven made a clever and tasteful joke about a streaker onstage during an Oscars telecast. Now an almost streaker is the master of ceremonies. Get your act together, Academy, you’ve gone frenetic (and you can choose what I mean by that).

  10. Ethan Edwards says:

    Spot on Bruce. Thank you!

  11. Julie Sisk says:

    And…of course, good article, Bruce!!

  12. Julie Sisk says:

    Lose the songs! They are the worst part of the show and don’t mean anything at all. They cut off the acceptance speeches and these people have waited and worked a lifetime to be up there…and then that awful music humiliates them…so we have time for a “bit” by whichever poor reviled host is up there…lose the songs…they have nothing to do with anything! And start a category for film festival people…we know the most about the films!

  13. Gary Shapiro says:

    Bruce Feldman’s Oscar piece was well thought out and intelligent!
    I’m an Academy member too and on the Foreign Language Selection Committee and we’d all like to see the younger members become more proactive in the Academy. True…we more seasoned members may have deeper insights but we need younger members to get more involved.

  14. Jonathan Strickland says:

    I think, perhaps, the Academy’s views should reflect a more diverse population than white male. The LA Times did a study a couple of years ago that indicated the Academy consists primarily of white men in their 50s and older. I know a lot of pressure has been put on Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to increase diversity within the Academy and we hear that’s the case, but it doesn’t seem reflected in nominations. Perhaps we’re in a transition period and in a year or two the playing field will appear equal. But for the time being, it seems a valid criticism.

    • Joyce Tyler says:

      I think Jessica Chastain got it exactly right. There is rarely any reason why a lead role, which invariably goes to a white male, can’t be cast with an African-American, Hispanic, or Asian male, or, indeed, a female of any race. Changing the prevailing mind set re casting would go a long way toward influencing what and who gets nominated behind the camera as well.

  15. Larry Deutchman says:


  16. Joyce Tyler says:

    I agree with Mr. Feldman that Ramin Setoodeh’s suggestions are unacceptable. But how about adding a separate best picture category that would allow entertaining, well made, big box office movies to compete?

    • cadavra says:

      They already have that. It’s called The People’s Choice Awards. And The MTV Movie Awards. And The Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. That’s more than enough awards for Adam Sandler and Superhero Explosion Movies.

      • Joyce Tyler says:

        Cadavra, that’s one of the problems with most Academy voters; they think that all popcorn movies are crap, when some of them have fine scripts, engaging characters and performances, and spectacular visuals. Having a separate category for them would not involve a popularity contest–at least not any more so than the best picture category does; these films would have to deserve to be nominated in their category. Having tech awards is boring for most non-industry Oscar show viewers; but incorporating technology as one of the criteria by which to judge a film in the new, additional best picture category I’m suggesting seems like a pretty good solution to me.

      • cadavra says:

        Joyce, that’s exactly my point. The Oscars shouldn’t be a popularity contest. They should theoretically go to the best films. That’s why those subsidiaries awards exist, to give aid and comfort to the fans of crap that couldn’t win anything otherwise.

      • Joyce Tyler says:

        Didn’t think I’d ever have to say this, but a People’s Choice award isn’t an Oscar.

    • Island Planet says:

      I like it. The winner for best Blockbuster goes to….

    • Bruce, thank-you exceedingly for once more bringing your clear, cool, deeply considered thoughts to a mess of a situation! I have great nostalgia for the televised Oscars which I’ve been watching for 60 edition
      s this year! They helped inspire me to want to be a part of this industry and I’d love to see what YouTube can offer in comparison. I’m still a bit starry-eyed I guess because they never seem as long as they are and some will always be better than others, like movies. It’s encouraging to see how much Bruce and the rest of you care to make some worthwhile improvements. Here! Here! Oscar lives on, maybe as not so much a shapeshifter, but as something we want and need to take a stab at thanking film artists for giving us a great time at the movies!!

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