As Academy executives hunt for new Oscar producers after the departure of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, they should think less about Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, and more about ESPN president John Skipper.
Whenever the job opens up for an Academy Awards producer, Oscar fans point out that this is the film industry’s biggest event and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should corral a big name, since it has access to the greatest filmmakers in the world.
But even though the awards are a celebration of film, the Oscarcast is a television event. And producing live TV requires a very specific skill set, which is different from handling film, so Acad honchos should think outside the box and consider men and women who have produced live television: sports events, newscasts, talkshows and TV concerts.
Skipper, as president of ESPN, has insights into multiple producers of sports events, so his recommendations would be interesting. As a bonus, ESPN is under the ABC-Disney umbrella.
Another possibility within the family: producers of “Good Morning America,” ABC’s morning talker that has transformed from a news program into an entertainment show. It’s doubtful whether Acad members would want their show to emulate “GMA,” but at least those producers know about talent booking, last-minute crises and keeping the show to its scheduled running time.
The TV world has several experts who would be brilliant additions to the Academy Awards but are probably out of the running because they are tied to rival networks. That list includes David Hill, who’s brought many innovations to Fox’s sports coverage, and NBC’s Fred Gaudelli, veteran Super Bowl producer. But the point is that anyone who’s produced “Monday Night Football” could wrangle the Oscars.
Another area worth exploring: producers of live theater. The Oscars are not the Tonys, but the legit world has plenty of people like Marc Platt (“Wicked”) who understand the demands of live entertainment.
Of course the Oscars need someone who has great talent relationships and a finger on the pulse of the film industry. And that’s where the Academy’s vast resources come in, by tapping one or more individuals who can handle the “Hollywood” aspect of the job. But the key is making sure that this person works with a producer who sees this as a TV event, not just as an evening for the home team (i.e., the audiences at the Dolby Theatre and industry viewing parties).
Other possibilities include the usual suspects: producers of other awards shows (Grammys, MTV Awards, et al.) or former Oscar producers, like Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, who did great work and could be asked back. (And are we ready to re-embrace Brett Ratner, who was producer interruptus?)
Film-biz honchos like Spielberg and Cameron have been big Academy supporters, but it’s doubtful they have time to produce the labor-intensive show. In addition, it’s a thankless task. TV audiences have grown up watching Oscars, and every individual around the world seems to have ideas about what the show should or shouldn’t be.