Oscar Producers Talk Host Search, Jimmy Kimmel, and Venturing Into Live TV

Michael De Luca Jennifer Todd
Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

The Motion Picture Academy on Friday morning named Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd producers for the 89th annual Oscars telecast. The announcement came one day after Variety reported exclusively that the Academy had entered serious negotiations with the film producers following a lengthy search.

Todd, whose credits include “Alice in Wonderland” and “Jason Bourne,” and De Luca, producer of “The Social Network” and “Captain Phillips,” served together as co-chairs of the 2016 Producers Guild Awards. They spoke with Variety about their vision for the Oscars, the search for a host, and whether they will consider a return engagement.

When did you start talking to the Academy about the Oscars?
Michael De Luca: Jen and I had done the PGA Awards last year, and we were not secretive about our ambition to be considered for the Academy Awards. So we started initial conversations around that time, and it evolved.

So you had been eyeing this gig for a little while.
De Luca: A little while. Twenty-five years.
Jennifer Todd: It’s something we’ve talked about for a long time wanting to do. It’s definitely been on the bucket list for us, talking about the show and how we would do it if we ever got to have it. It’s remarkable that it’s here, so we’re excited.

Creatively, what are your goals for the show?
De Luca: We want to lean heavily on joy and laughs and have it be no homework  — just a good time, people celebrating each other, trying to event-ize the telecast. Not to minimize the nominated films, but to give the telecast and the production of the show things about it that make it must-see TV. That’s the bar we’re setting for ourselves. So we’re trying to come up with ways to augment the awards with special things that make you laugh or remind you that movies have been your best friend for your whole life and your family’s lives — through thick and thin. Especially in bad times when you want to escape, we’ve been there for you.

How boxed in are you by the format of the show? There is a set number of categories you have to get through. There are certain viewer expectations. How do you innovate with those limitations in place?
De Luca: We’re still thinking about it. Obviously we can dictate the order of the awards for maximum entertainment value. But I think truly the selection of the presenters is where you can really have fun. Because no matter what the award is, you put the right presenters on there, and that award becomes fun.

Are you in conversation with anyone yet about hosting?
Todd: We’re not yet. We’ve got our long list started. But we’ve got a lot of ideas. We haven’t really narrowed it down quite yet.

How long is that initial list?
Todd: Pretty long. I would say all-encompassing right now. We’re not ruling anybody out right now.
De Luca: Right now we’re in kitchen-sink territory. That’s going to get shorter real quick.

Do you have a target date by which you want to have a host in place?
De Luca: Tomorrow. Time is of the essence, so we’re hoping to hit pay dirt within the next couple of days or weeks.

Are there folks who you’ve worked with in the past that you’d like to see up there?
De Luca: We’re not naming names. Jen and I both, our careers as producers are pretty eclectic. There are a few people I think would be great in both our filmographies.

Ben Sherwood at Disney had said that he was “very hopeful” that Jimmy Kimmel would host. Is that a possibility?
Todd: Yes, everything is on the table. Everybody’s on the table right now. Like we said, we’re still in our kitchen sink [stage]. Jimmy included. But we’ll get there soon.

You both have a lot of film and TV experience, not a ton of it in the live space. How will you take your experience and apply it to a live television broadcast?
De Luca: The PGAs are very humble. They’re not televised. But it is a live event. And look, like every producer that’s come into this having come from being a film and TV producer, not having produced Broadway shows or live events or live telecasts, we’re going to lean on the crack production staff that has done this for decades. I think this could be a combination of our experience, which in this field may be limited, and taking advantage of the experience of everyone at ABC and the Academy, who have displayed excellence in doing this forever.

If on Feb. 27 you wake up and say to yourselves, “That was fun,” would you come back and do it again, as we’ve seen some producers do in the past?
De Luca: I don’t want to say for Jennifer, but I absolutely would. Unless something horrible goes wrong.
Todd: Hopefully we’ll be making movies in between, but yes, for sure.