×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

ABC’s Oscar Contract Renegotiations: Who’ll Get Creative Control?

Negotiations for ABC to extend its license agreement for the annual Oscar telecast are underway, but there’s a sticking point: ABC wants more creative input.

ABC’s deal with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences already runs through 2020, but the two sides have been in talks for some time about an extension. A long-term deal would provide stability for the Academy as it looks to take on debt to help finance its ambitious Hollywood museum project, set to open in 2018.

Given the ratings issues with recent Oscarcasts, ABC has a much stronger argument to make at the bargaining table. Sunday’s 88th annual Academy Awards brought in the lowest ratings in eight years, a disappointment for Hollywood’s glitziest awards gala.

Under the terms of the contract, the Academy retains the rights to produce the show. That means AMPAS officials pick the producers, the host and set the tone for the overall production.

The network has always wanted more power, and now declining ratings strengthens its demand for a seat at the table when it comes to the show itself. The push is seen as coming from Ben Sherwood and the top ranks of ABC. (The Academy and ABC declined comment on ongoing negotiations.)

On Sunday, host Chris Rock drew generally positive reviews for attacking the Oscars’ diversity crisis with biting jokes. But the overall production of the show was seen as lackluster, given the industry it celebrates. With the diversity issue adding to the pressure, AMPAS is likely to be in a mood to cut a deal.

“To be a good partner I think you have to make some concessions when you realize you’re not capable of producing a show anymore,” says a source. “They watch what happens with Dick Clark Productions, who produce the Golden Globes, and it’s a pretty slick show.”

The overnights had barely come in before the finger-pointing began. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy blindsided the Academy and left the producers scrambling, and under pressure of boycotts, Chris Rock did little to promote the show. “We were behind the eight ball in this controversy,” says a network insider. “And America didn’t care.”

While viewers tuned out, those who did watch complained that the show itself didn’t feel well-produced. Though Rock’s monologue was well-received (as was his extended bit involving his young daughters selling Girl Scout cookies), the show was lacking in high-gloss production elements. “I thought Chris Rock opened strongly but then he kept going back to the same theme. It wore out its welcome,” acknowledged one Academy member.

Multiple sources questioned the choice of David Hill, a veteran of sports and live events, and director-producer Reginald Hudlin as producers of this year’s show. The Academy has long wrestled with whether to hand the telecast to film producers or to those with TV experience. For the previous three Oscarcasts the Academy went with Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who have a broad mix of film, TV and legit productions on their resumes.

In an interview with Variety, Hill and Hudlin defended the show, pointing to the increase in male viewership (it was up 20%), and a slight uptick in the 18-34 demo. “We wanted to youth-ify the audience and broaden the demos, so that was very satisfying,” said Hudlin. They said they got a positive response from ABC and several Academy governors, who were “stoked.”

All this Monday-morning quarterbacking only strengthens ABC’s negotiating stance. But should it get too contentious, the Academy does have other options. CBS, for example, would likely take over the show in a heartbeat. Says a source, “The Academy can just turn to Les Moonves and say, ‘Will you give us more freedom?’ And he’ll say ‘yes’ and give them more money. But the truth is if you’re going to move (to another network) you better get something out of it other than a change in an acrimonious relationship.”

Ratings aside, the Oscars nevertheless are bankable as a prestige play for premium advertisers. ABC brought in an estimated $110 million in revenue from Oscar ads with last year’s telecast — and presumably a similar haul this year.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Mickey Mouse waves to members of

    Spider-Man, Spicer and Splashy First-Looks: Everything We're Looking For at D23

    As if Disney hasn’t owned enough weekends this year at the box office, the biennial D23 Expo will light up Anaheim, Calif. over the next three days to celebrate the content monolith. From a new Netflix-competing streaming platform to scores of movie and series reveals — along with a few hot controversies to confront — [...]

  • PHINEAS AND FERB - "The Fast

    'Phineas and Ferb' Disney Plus Movie Details, Including Title, Revealed at D23

    Five years after summer ended for “Phineas and Ferb,” the show returns with a new movie on Disney Plus in 2020, new details of which were revealed on Friday at the D23 fan convention. In “Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe,” currently in production for the new streaming service, stepbrothers Phineas and [...]

  • Brews Brothers Netflix

    Netflix Orders Comedy Series 'Brews Brothers' from Schaffer Brothers

    Netflix has put in an eight-episode order of “Brews Brothers,” a comedy series from creative sibling team Greg Schaffer and Jeff Schaffer. The show follows estranged brothers Wilhelm and Adam Rodman, who wind up running a brewery together. According to Netflix, each is a “beer genius … but they couldn’t be more different in their [...]

  • Sinclair

    Sinclair Closes Purchase of Fox Regional Sports Networks From Disney

    Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Walt Disney Company have closed their $9.6 billion deal for Sinclair to buy 21 Fox Regional Sports Networks and Fox College Sports. The deal was announced in May after Disney bought the networks as part of its acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox. The portfolio, which excludes the YES Network, is described [...]

  • Michael Shannon

    Michael Shannon to Play Jerry Buss in HBO's 'Untitled Showtime Lakers Project' Pilot

    Michael Shannon has been cast to play self-made millionaire and former Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss in HBO’s “The Untitled Showtime Lakers Project” pilot, based on the Jeff Pearlman book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” The series, which chronicles the professional and personal lives of the [...]

  • Luna Nera Netflix Italy

    Netflix Eyes More Italian Productions

    Since Netflix entered the Italian market in 2015, it’s steadily gained ground in terms of subscriptions, which are expected to reach 2 million by the end of 2019, according to independent analyst Ovum. The streaming giant recently announced a €200 million ($222 million) investment in Italian original productions over the next three years. Variety spoke [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content