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The Oscars’ Head Writer Greg Berlanti Aims to Put Presenters at Ease

greg berlanti Oscars Head Writer
Damon Casarez for Variety

Greg Berlanti has been a showrunner, director and a producer, but for his first stint on the Oscars, he’s enjoying being a just a writer.

“You’re not in charge or worrying about what’s falling into place,” Berlanti says. I just do my thing and participate, and watch all the other insanity that happens without having to feel responsible for fixing it — other than the words on the page. It’s fun, because you’re just cranking out material.”

When producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron called in December and asked him, “Would you like to write for the Oscars?” duty called. “If you’re in this business,” Berlanti says, “and the Oscars ask you to participate, you move heaven and earth to do that.”

Berlanti and his staff are writing the script for everything and everyone — except host Neil Patrick Harris, who has his own scribes. That covers 24 awards, plus introductions for performers and clip packages; Harris gets most of the jokes, though Berlanti’s team will look for opportunities to slip in a few topical references.

Lines are tailored for specific presenters, which gives Berlanti and his three-person staff the chance to request specific presenters for some awards. But most presenters are selected for other reasons, and only about half are set before the writers’ first draft is due — about three weeks prior to the show. Notes on the text come from the producers, the Academy and eventually from the presenters themselves. So for the writers, the Oscarcast home stretch is filled with long hours of meetings with stars and their reps, rehearsals and rewrites.

“Once (the presenters) feel they can just be themselves up there speaking, that removes some of the tension,” Berlanti explains. “You can’t take away the fact that millions upon millions of people are watching, but you can make people feel comfortable.”