Oscar Arrivals: Can TV Hosts Please Ask About the Movies?

Red carpet banality is one more reason to miss Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

There are a lot of reasons to miss the late Roger Ebert, but one of them was the authority and genuine love of movies that he brought to the Oscar red carpet, when he appeared on the local arrivals show for the Los Angeles ABC station, KABC-TV.

While there’s more time and coverage devoted to the arrivals than ever, both of those aforementioned commodities are in painfully short supply, as the coverage has shifted almost entirely to banality and fashion, where the most probing question one is apt to hear – over and over again – is “Who are you wearing?”

Granted, much of the audience that tunes in for the Oscars is preoccupied with how everyone looks, even if it’s unlikely they’ll ever go out and buy a Tiffany bracelet, much less one of those designer dresses or ornate pieces of jewelry on display.

Still, the Academy Awards represent a celebration of the best (hopefully) that movies have to offer. And while an element of celebrity ass-kissing is inevitably part of the territory, there ought to be at least some space to talk about the films themselves.

Ebert – at heart a newspaper critic – certainly recognized this. Before someone says that’s too inside baseball, though, it’s worth noting there’s a rich industry on TV devoted to interviewing actors and the occasional filmmaker about their work, eliciting anecdotes, funny stories or interesting tidbits.

These are called latenight talkshows, or network morning shows. Somehow, those programs manage to entertain an audience without focusing squarely on which designer outfitted the talent that particular day.

Even Barbara Walters’ annual Oscar special, while something of a “Will she get them to cry?” joke, contained genuine content about movies. Yet that’s been replaced by more arrival fluff, albeit with new bells and whistles to zero in on everything from shoes to hemlines from every conceivable angle.

ABC will again enlist its “Good Morning America” team to handle the 90-minute arrivals telecast, and if history’s any guide, movies will be an afterthought.

This is the Oscars, after all – the granddaddy of awards season. If you want to focus strictly on something other than the work, why not pick a showcase where nobody really cares who wins – like, say, the Golden Globes? (NBC’s Matt Lauer looked so embarrassed to be seen at the Globes he couldn’t bring himself to remove his sunglasses.)

Several years ago, media wags began labeling the Oscars the “Super Bowl for women” — a story the Wall Street Journal recycled this week — primarily based on what a huge platform it’s become for a certain kind of advertiser. As stereotypical as that sounds, the heavy tilt of the audience gender-wise has fed an emphasis on style in the surrounding hoopla that practically ensures the male-female ratio stays imbalanced. (The Los Angeles Times reported the female skew as roughly 5-3 last year, and that was with Seth MacFarlane hosting — an overt attempt to pander to younger males.)

Nobody is saying the pre-Oscar festivities must turn into an American Film Institute master class. But there is a serious business underneath all the glitz – providing studios incentive to campaign for these honors, with careers impacted by the results – and frankly, simply telling Jennifer Lawrence or Matthew McConaughey how great they look isn’t exactly new information.

So please, could someone carve out a few moments to remember why everyone’s there by at least asking a few questions about the movies – and in the process, after the weekend’s cleaning downpour, shampoo a little of the fashion-soaked froth out of the red carpet?