An Oscar Tradition Dies, but Why Not Announce the Nominees in Primetime?

OScar Nominations 2016
Courtesy of AMPAS Youtube Channel

Earlier this week at the American Society of Cinematographers’ nominees announcement luncheon, a publicist friend tipped me off to the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was planning on something different with its own nominations reveal this year. She didn’t know what it was, but she said someone had suggested she not bother getting up early on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to trek it over to the Academy’s offices on Wilshire Boulevard for the annual gathering of publicists and journalists.

Now we know what that was all about.

The Academy announced Friday that it will forgo the assembled audience and instead reveal the nominations through its “own production,” airing on a global live stream and through local broadcasters, including ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

My friend was bummed out, and it’s understandable why. For many, nomination morning is their summit. That cheering and applause you often hear when unexpected names are called — that’s the hard-working publicists who played a big part in pulling it off. Those kinds of moments can put this behind-the-curtain aspect of the season out in front, and who knows, perhaps that’s part of the Academy’s thinking; the organization has always maintained that it would prefer campaigning be minimized (despite offering the single greatest opportunity of the season to do so).

Nevertheless, some are feeling left out.

“You have taken away what I have always tried to explain to people as being the cherry on the top of my awards season sundae,” wrote Dorothea Sargent, an awards consultant and publicist since 2003, in an open letter to the Academy on her Facebook page. Comparing the tradition to waiting on Broadway reviews to roll in at Sardi’s in New York, she continued: “Nomination morning means more to me than the actual awards ceremony. I see it as a place to gather with this crazy band of publicists and consultants I call my colleagues. I use it to measure my performance and question if I did or didn’t do enough, what worked, what didn’t worked, was there more I could have done.”

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Oscar Nominations 2016

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For others, though, Friday’s announcement is a reprieve. Nomination morning is an early day for them that begins well before the 5:30am PT announcement, after all.

“I feel like I can sleep another hour and a half instead of waking up at three o’clock, so selfishly, I’m pretty excited about it,” another consultant told me. “You don’t sleep the night before, because you’re so nervous, and the morning comes and you’re like, ‘Oh God, I have to do this.’ But you get there and I don’t know, there’s something about the community. But I guess I can get to the office quicker and start rolling calls, so it’s a time saver.”

One member of the Academy’s public relations branch told me he had been suggesting this for years, as the event is “costly to stage: elevator guys, security guys, all-nighter, etc.”

Others, meanwhile, noted that doing things this way allows AMPAS brass to dodge immediate, sometimes difficult questions. Last year, for instance, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was besieged by queries about the #OscarsSoWhite scandal, which came to quite a head with films like “Beasts of No Nation,” “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” missing key nominations.

However, for the Academy, this could — or at least should — be the first step toward something bigger. The Oscar nominations announcement has been a missed revenue opportunity for quite some time. What is keeping it from being a primetime special like the Grammys or professional sports drafts, heavily promoted, hosted, and with advertising (non-endemic, probably) sold against it?

The reason for an early morning reveal has always been to capitalize on the day’s news cycle, but it’s sort of an old school mentality, and you’ll obviously get that out of a night time special. Everyone will certainly be talking about the nominees the next morning.

I’m not a programming head, so I don’t know what that would mean to the bottom line, and an Academy rep told me there are no plans for such a thing at this moment. And sure, the Academy wants a global audience. But I think it’s something worth exploring, rather than just giving “Good Morning America” a ratings shot in the arm.

For now, though, a beloved tradition is gone.

“I have often said that even if I won the lottery I would continue to do what I do because I love doing it and because I love that dark January morning I spend every year on Wilshire Boulevard,” Sargent said in her letter. “You have taken that away and I am saddened.”

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  1. ig says:

    Very rapidly this website will be famous among all blog viewers,
    due to it’s nice articles

  2. Oscar Geek says:

    Those are just the start of changes to upgrade the ceremony. Why is there only ONE broadcast ceremony? It ends up trying to be all things to all people and ends up pleasing no one. Get a host edgy enough to entertain those who have even seen most of the nominees but not TOO edgy for those who don’t give a crap about most of them. License out broadcast rights to anyone. (Yes, kill the monopoly rights) Let’s see Comedy Central’s take vs PBS vs. SciFi. Have set times for each award and let each licensee pick which awards they wish to stream/broadcast. Let The Actor’s Studio go in depth in between about the nominees while ignoring the tech awards (while SciFi or others might do the reverse.) For a few days you’d have “who presented it better.” Competition for hosts and innovations in filler and tributes.

    And it would make it a true universal night as many outlets honor film in ways that appeal to our increasingly segmented audiences. It’s bad enough that AMPAS (generally) sneers at “commercial” films while seeking the same level of audience success for the awards ceremony that ignores them. The Academy Awards ceremony is the oldest, lamest franchise in film making and it really shows. “Oscars: Episode 89 We Changed the Host Again Does That Help?” Break it up and let a thousands presentations bloom.

  3. Jeff says:

    The early morning nomination and its associated heartbreak was beautifully reenacted in Christoper Guest’s “For Your Consideration”.

  4. P. Russ says:

    If I had to guess, the answer to ‘Why not’ is the Millennial children and their representation hashtags. A digital release at the usual time lets the irrelevant darlings get it out of their system, rage into their echo chamber about whatever they’re offended at this time and indulge the fantasy that they’re creating a ‘controversy’ that anybody gives a crap about. Normal media outlets will report it at the usual time through the usual channels, and the working world will get and process the actual news, as always, without the nonsense.

  5. Rena Moretti says:

    Why not? Because nobody outside Hollywood cares!!!

    And most people in Hollywood (though they won’t admit it in public) also don’t care.

    You’d have to first make good films for people to care.

    • Chason says:

      { Because nobody outside Hollywood cares!!!}

      Just because YOU don’t, don’t assume that others are don’t care. Movie lovers everywhere get excited about the Oscar nominees.

  6. Mark L Robyn says:

    The problem with the Oscars is it is just like any other company’s awards meeting, not very exciting to watch, actors not acting, just talking. What it needs is to give the audience more, such a variety show with musical numbers and comedy sketches to break up the monotonous awards speeches. Then it would get more viewers.

  7. Bill B. says:

    From what I’ve observed the past couple of years, Isaacs really needs to go.

  8. Bernie says:

    What happened to the phrase: ‘It’s ALL SHOW BUSINESS kid…’? This is- ALL- SHOW BUSINESS! and it’s time to put more SHOW in than business. With most ‘class’ now missing in the annual Academy Award show this would be a wonderful way for A.M.P.A.S. to pull of a highly rated 30 – 60 min program that not only announced the years best but also educated the public on A.M.P.A.S.’s work and inspired those watching to maybe one become a filmmaker or just see a nominated film. Seems a win win. Sad that we have lost the morning tradition. I am not sure that I have ever missed one being a L.A. native. I always remember the night before, thinking of all of those gathering and awaiting 5:30 AM ………………

  9. StevenKovacs says:

    At the risk of sounding cynical, why shouldn’t they format the nominations announcement into a half hour special and sell ad time?
    That’s what La la land is all about, right?

  10. Joe Burton says:

    I’ve always enjoyed this tradition, for me because it happens during my morning commute, and I’m really going to miss it.

  11. John boettcher says:

    So we are supposed to be sympathetic to early rising publicists (lobbyists of Hollywood) who think someone pissed in their cereal because they don’t get to slap each other on the back saying how important they all are and what a great job they did this year?

    Really?

    Really Variety??

    This is a fluff piece with no fluff, just thinly-veiled self agrandizement.

    Wow.

    • Dorothea Sargent says:

      John I did not ask for sympathy nor did Kris. I spoke from my heart about what that tradition meant to me and Kris shared it. Stop your reactionary bullshit and eat the cereal. You have no sense of camaraderie and a shared bond with others.

    • Bizarre comment. Not sure you know what a “puff piece” is (which is what you meant to say). All perspectives on this are included, and ultimately, a suggestion for parlaying this into something completely different. One publicist’s open letter reaction to the news just happened to be more dramatic. You can feel how you want about that perspective. We’ve taken no position on it.

      “Wow” indeed.

  12. Paul says:

    Enjoyed variety 45years keep up the great work

  13. Jake says:

    This all seem seems to be in line with the new age of trump. I wish all press would stand up to this, these small things are the ultimate demise. This is such a mistake

    • Joe Burton says:

      It’s going to be a long 4/8 years if you keep dragging Trump into everything. So now he’s responsible for decisions of the MPAA?

      • Bill B. says:

        Why not?! We just went through a long 8 years with Obama being blamed for everything imaginable. And he wasn’t even insane!

  14. Cynthia Lazos says:

    So unfair. We the public count on the Media to let us know who’s who. We /you need the Media.
    Never be the same.

  15. Dave says:

    “What is keeping it from being a primetime special like the Grammys”

    First off, the Grammys scrapped that prime time special because it was a ratings non-event. It became quite apparent that viewers didn’t want to sit through a mock-awards ceremony before the actual ceremony.

    As for there being an “old school” mentality to play into the day’s news cycle that’s ridiculous. The “old” cycle involved print newspapers and the Oscars never played to their schedules anyway. People still get up in the morning, they still watch morning shows and they still talk in the office, so the traditional morning announcement was a fun sliver of TV. It also played out at the perfect time for both coasts, even if some prissy publicists wanted an extra hour of sleep once a year.

    So let’s go back for a moment to this supposed success of how the Grammys did it. If anyone watched the Grammy nominations this year on the morning show (was out the Today show?) it flew by in moments. Meghan Trainor walls of, did some chatty chat about how much fun it is to be nominated and then read the nominees in two minutes. It didn’t feel like anything special. Not an event. No excitement. It was a great way for everyone to forget about the Grammys until February.

    • No one said anything about “supposed success” of the Grammy event, just that it was an example of such a thing, along with sports drafts. And it’s not one size fits all. Perhaps ABC/The Academy could do a better job of promoting and producing something along these lines.

      Also, the “catch the morning shows” thing is indeed antiquated. Particularly in a web-centric world. Just like the water cooler TV discussion feels on its way out. People catch up with these things at different strides.

      • Dave says:

        If the morning “water cooler” conversation is on its way out with the morning shows, what makes you think an evening event is on its way in? Shouldn’t they just abandon TV all together until the Oscar ceremony and put everything else solely on the Internet?

        Also, you’re implying that online conversation is taking over for in-person conversation. Most of us still talk to our friends and colleagues, regardless of whether we are on Twitter or not. But to me none of this really has anything to do with organizers scrapping the traditional nominations event. I think they’ll realize that Hollywood hates this new idea and that fabricated excitement pales to the real thing.

      • We’ll see. I don’t think they could mobilize to do what I’m proposing in the first place. Too much on their plate as it is, and no real vision for seeing it through. But there’s an opportunity here, despite your urge to be dismissive. And really, ratings of any sort with Oscar-related material will always depend on the popularity of the movies in the discussion, so it’s a moving target.

  16. Nanny Mo says:

    Another tradition has died under Isaacson too, color-blindness.

  17. Jeremiah Lyles says:

    AMPAS is finally making the right adjustments for cost and safety. Next many would hope is the controlled ciaos of the crowd on Hollywood Boulevard.
    Stopping the mayhem there should be next, to avoid any acts of terrorism and similar.
    Cost is also an issue.
    If I was with the DOJ, I would have ended the fan sections long ago with the arrivals being done in another, more secure place.

    Why AMPAS has not moved the event to a back lot somewhere like Warner Burbank for safety is mindless. Warner built some kind of huge digital stage that might be able to house the event making it safer.

    • Chris Darling says:

      Then we might as well give up all live events. No matter the cost, terrorists must not be allowed to win. That’s why they are called terrorists. And if any industry can afford the added security (which in and of itself is some sort of publicity, isn’t it?) it’s the business of show.

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