An Oscar Tradition Dies, but Why Not Announce the Nominees in Primetime?

Earlier this week at the American Society of Cinematographers’ nominees announcement luncheon, a publicist friend tipped me off to the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was planning on something different with its own nominations reveal this year. She didn’t know what it was, but she said someone had suggested she not bother getting up early on Tuesday, Jan. 24, to trek it over to the Academy’s offices on Wilshire Boulevard for the annual gathering of publicists and journalists.

Now we know what that was all about.

The Academy announced Friday that it will forgo the assembled audience and instead reveal the nominations through its “own production,” airing on a global live stream and through local broadcasters, including ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

My friend was bummed out, and it’s understandable why. For many, nomination morning is their summit. That cheering and applause you often hear when unexpected names are called — that’s the hard-working publicists who played a big part in pulling it off. Those kinds of moments can put this behind-the-curtain aspect of the season out in front, and who knows, perhaps that’s part of the Academy’s thinking; the organization has always maintained that it would prefer campaigning be minimized (despite offering the single greatest opportunity of the season to do so).

Nevertheless, some are feeling left out.

“You have taken away what I have always tried to explain to people as being the cherry on the top of my awards season sundae,” wrote Dorothea Sargent, an awards consultant and publicist since 2003, in an open letter to the Academy on her Facebook page. Comparing the tradition to waiting on Broadway reviews to roll in at Sardi’s in New York, she continued: “Nomination morning means more to me than the actual awards ceremony. I see it as a place to gather with this crazy band of publicists and consultants I call my colleagues. I use it to measure my performance and question if I did or didn’t do enough, what worked, what didn’t worked, was there more I could have done.”

For others, though, Friday’s announcement is a reprieve. Nomination morning is an early day for them that begins well before the 5:30am PT announcement, after all.

“I feel like I can sleep another hour and a half instead of waking up at three o’clock, so selfishly, I’m pretty excited about it,” another consultant told me. “You don’t sleep the night before, because you’re so nervous, and the morning comes and you’re like, ‘Oh God, I have to do this.’ But you get there and I don’t know, there’s something about the community. But I guess I can get to the office quicker and start rolling calls, so it’s a time saver.”

One member of the Academy’s public relations branch told me he had been suggesting this for years, as the event is “costly to stage: elevator guys, security guys, all-nighter, etc.”

Others, meanwhile, noted that doing things this way allows AMPAS brass to dodge immediate, sometimes difficult questions. Last year, for instance, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was besieged by queries about the #OscarsSoWhite scandal, which came to quite a head with films like “Beasts of No Nation,” “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” missing key nominations.

However, for the Academy, this could — or at least should — be the first step toward something bigger. The Oscar nominations announcement has been a missed revenue opportunity for quite some time. What is keeping it from being a primetime special like the Grammys or professional sports drafts, heavily promoted, hosted, and with advertising (non-endemic, probably) sold against it?

The reason for an early morning reveal has always been to capitalize on the day’s news cycle, but it’s sort of an old school mentality, and you’ll obviously get that out of a night time special. Everyone will certainly be talking about the nominees the next morning.

I’m not a programming head, so I don’t know what that would mean to the bottom line, and an Academy rep told me there are no plans for such a thing at this moment. And sure, the Academy wants a global audience. But I think it’s something worth exploring, rather than just giving “Good Morning America” a ratings shot in the arm.

For now, though, a beloved tradition is gone.

“I have often said that even if I won the lottery I would continue to do what I do because I love doing it and because I love that dark January morning I spend every year on Wilshire Boulevard,” Sargent said in her letter. “You have taken that away and I am saddened.”

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