Academy Ready to Weigh Oscarcast, but Not Best-Picture Questions

Neil Patrick Harris Opening Oscars
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

At its upcoming March 24 board meeting, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences is expected to conduct a serious post-mortem on the Feb. 22 Oscar show, which drew lukewarm reaction from the audience and a significant 16% drop in ratings from last year.

In fact, the only panel scheduled to present its findings to the board next week is the committee that reviews the content of the show, including the script, musical numbers and running time.

But this likely won’t be the meeting where other major changes are discussed, like altering the number of best-picture nominees or KO’ing specific categories.

The rules committee, which looks at awards fundamentals, like the number of best-picture contenders and whether to introduce new categories (such as the long-in-discussion one for casting directors), is expected to share its observations at subsequent board meetings in the next few months.

However, one member said privately that a faction will next week propose a return to five best-picture contenders, and will push for an immediate vote. The entertainment media has picked up on this development, which may force the issue on March 24. But since the topic is not on the agenda, many AMPAS members contacted by Variety said a discussion doesn’t look to be on the program — and they hope a vote won’t happen. They point out that the Acad tends to be very deliberate on such important actions and that the topic has been debated and rejected every year since the category expanded in 2009.

Sid Ganis, who was AMPAS president between 2005 and 2009, told Variety that he’s heard of no imminent move to change the rules. “We went to 10 (nominees) in my last year as president, and we always said that it was an experiment,” he added. “And in fact, it was modified after we did it twice to the current rules of between five and 10. So the rules are always flexible and always changeable. I think it’s working pretty well.”

The audience reaction and ratings for the ABC Oscar telecast caused many Academy members and fans to offer suggestions for improvement, including proposals that some of the categories be nixed from the telecast.

But the show is a decision by committee — literally. ABC execs always give input, but the content is basically up to the board, whose members are adamant that all 24 awards need to be presented on the air. The entertainment portion of the telecast actually amounts to only 40 to 60 minutes of the 3½-hour running time, according to one former Oscar producer.

The show has multiple goals, sometimes conflicting: honoring film work, entertaining TV audiences around the globe and aiming to improve on previous ratings.

Before March 24, the awards-review committee will huddle with Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron; the duo will then excuse themselves while the panel continues the discussion. Zadan and Meron, who have produced the show for the past three years, may not return next year. Earlier this month, Zadan tweeted, “Hoping that whoever produces the Oscars next year will retain our innovations: TeamOscar program & reading all 24 noms on Oscar nom morning.” Sources say there have been no official discussions on the duo’s possible return.

This year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, is not expected to give a repeat performance in 2016. He told the Huffington Post that it was fun, but he wasn’t sure it’s something he wants to do again.

It’s also not clear if and when the Academy board will address the Internet’s No. 1 topic for discussion this year: diversity.

When predominantly white Oscar nominees were announced this past January, Academy honchos immediately found themselves on the defensive. After the initial anger that spawned the #Oscarsowhite slogan, many industry pundits conceded that it’s an issue for the entire industry, not specifically the Academy. AMPAS executives said they will hold discussions with studios and other industry decisionmakers to try to change Hollywood’s patterns and expand the talent pool that’s hired.

Things were put into perspective Saturday night, when the Human Rights Campaign presented an award to Shonda Rhimes, who was praised for creating characters of various races and sexual persuasions — and hiring staffers who similarly reflect the varied makeup of the country. “I hate the word ‘diversity,'” Rhimes said. “I have a different word: I call it normalizing.”

Dave McNary contributed to this report.