Academy Ventures Into the Unknown With No Oscar Producer, No Host

The 89th Oscars telecast will take place in four months, and there is still neither a producer nor a host lined up to lead the show.

The Motion Picture Academy is now venturing into uncharted territory. The longest it has gone in recent years before naming a producer was in 2009, when it waited until Oct. 21 to announce Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic.

Academy spokesperson Teni Melidonian assured Variety Monday that news is on its way.

“We’ve had great conversations with several potential producers, and we’re excited to make our announcement shortly,” Melidonian said in an emailed statement. “The Academy and Oscar production teams are already working to create paths for an incoming producer to get started.”

The lack of movement has become a growing source of agitation inside ABC, which just renewed its deal to broadcast the awards show through 2028 — and has lobbied publicly for its late-night host, Jimmy Kimmel, to be handed the emcee duties. Meanwhile, sources familiar with the situation say that Academy leaders Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Dawn Hudson appear to be torn over the tone that the 2017 show should take following this year’s “Oscars So White” controversy.

And while sources tell Variety that the Academy has assured the network that a producers shortlist has been formed, no specific names have yet publicly surfaced.

Academy leadership is said to be preoccupied with an internal debate about the elements of the telecast, whether it should return to the starry grandeur and spectacle of past shows — a notable component during the three-year run of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron as exec producers — or stick with the clip-driven approach of this year’s telecast. The hand-wringing is heightened by the fact that this year’s nominated films are likely to be mostly smaller independent films that won’t have as much appeal to casual viewers. The trend line over the years for Oscar ratings is indisputable: The more esoteric the top nominees, the lower the viewership.

Representatives for ABC and Kimmel declined to comment.

At this point, whoever takes the reins as producer will be in a mad scramble to assemble a behind-the-scenes team, design a set and book presenters. In past years, much of that advance work was completed by late summer or early fall in order to give producers and hosts as much time as possible to work out comedic and tribute segments. That was thanks in large part to a three-year deal that kept Zadan and Meron in place. That pact was never publicly disclosed but was understood to be in place when the duo were announced just a few months after one Oscars show as producers of the next. But the Broadway vets are believed to be uninterested in returning for another go, given the multiple projects currently on their plate. Nor is the shotgun marriage of David Hill and Reginald Hudlin that gave birth to this year’s show — with host Chris Rock — believed to be viable a second time around. Their production was met with mixed reviews, at best.

Kimmel, meanwhile, who received stellar reviews for his work hosting the Primetime Emmy Awards in September, is left cooling his heels — despite Disney/ABC Television Group chief Ben Sherwood saying in September that he was “very hopeful” Kimmel would be tapped to host the Oscars. Sherwood has touted the renewed deal as giving ABC greater creative input in the telecast, without specifying what level of influence it actually has over final creative decisions.

With the question of producer still unanswered, whether Kimmel ultimately gets the gig that his boss has publicly endorsed him for would appear to be a test of that influence.

— Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.


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