“Welcome to the historic Oscars…. It promises to be a very special evening.” With that announcement, Ryan Seacrest, clad in a navy-and-black tuxedo, kicked off E!’s red carpet coverage of the Academy Awards, despite the sexual misconduct allegations that have been levied against him.
At the top of the show, Seacrest bantered with his co-host, Giuliana Rancic, about their clothes and the sunny weather, but did not mention the swirl of news, or even the #MeToo or Time’s Up movements. Seacrest claimed his usual spot at the top of the carpet, with Rancic sequestered to poolside at the Roosevelt Hotel, a less ideal spot for wrangling celebrities.
In the end, Seacrest received some on-air shoutouts from stars including Mary J. Blige and Tiffany Haddish. But he also had noticeably lighter traffic this year among A-list stars, failing to land interviews with Viola Davis, Jennifer Garner, Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd, Margot Robbie and Sandra Bullock, among others. None of the women nominated for lead actress stopped to talk to him.
Celebrity publicists were divided on their approach to Seacrest, with some indicating that their clients would not speak with him, either avoiding him entirely or steering their clients to Rancic, while others said they would not hesitate to allow their clients to be interviewed by the host. Jennifer Lawrence told Howard Stern she wasn’t sure whether she would, saying, “He has not been to trial for anything. I am not a judge. I am not a jury, you know.” But E! decided to stand by the anchor, saying he would lead the Academy Awards red-carpet telecast, given that their investigation had found “insufficient evidence” of wrongdoing.
E! also faced controversy with its red-carpet coverage at last month’s Golden Globes, where Debra Messing, Eva Longoria and other stars called out the network over former host Catt Sadler’s claims of pay inequality. A veteran producer of the red-carpet show, Aileen Gram-Moreno, alleges she was fired for allowing Longoria’s interview to make it to air. The network has denied her claims.
Ahead of Sunday’s awards, there was rampant speculation about who would stop for interviews with him, along with debate about whether he should even take his post, with #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke telling Variety he should have stepped aside. “They really shouldn’t send him [to the Oscars],” said Burke of E!. “We shouldn’t have to make those choices of, ‘Do we or don’t we?’”
ABC is also heavily invested in Seacrest as he is to return as host of “American Idol,” the competition series that bows its new iteration on ABC next week. ABC plans to give heavy promotion to “Idol” during the Oscar telecast in its effort to drive audiences to sample its March 11 debut.
The first star he interviewed was Disney star Sofia Carson (and host of The Oscars: All Access”), who talked about her predictions for the night’s big winner. Sources tell Variety that pressure was brought on ABC and Disney stars, as well as those from E! and NBCUniversal, to show their support for the host. Earlier in the week, ABC star Bellamy Young (“Scandal”), who had first criticized Seacrest, later retracted her statement and apologized to the host. (Rancic, meanwhile, kicked off her interviews with “Shape of Water” star Doug Jones.) Whoopi Goldberg, moderator of ABC’s “The View,” also stopped briefly for Seacrest.
Seacrest also referenced his chat earlier in the day with Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel, who told Variety earlier this week that he would still go ahead with his post-show interview with Seacrest. “We should at the very least afford people the opportunity for truth, what the facts of the story are before hanging them out to dry,” Kimmel said.
Carson was his only interview in the first 45 minutes of the two-hour broadcast (he teased an interview with best song nominee Diane Warren), leaving Rancic to chat extensively with E! co-hosts Kristin Dos Santos and Josh Horowitz about last year’s best picture mixup, and with chef Wolfgang Puck about the post-Oscars meal at the Governors’ Ball. It fell to Dos Santos to talk about the #MeToo movement, with Dos Santos quoting stats about the lack of parity for female directors. “I hope a lot of young girls are watching tonight,” she said. When the subject of Casey Affleck came up, Horowitz referred to it simply as a “awkward situation.”
When Seacrest finally caught up with Warren, she recounted how she teamed up with Common for the song for the film “Marshall.” “It’s become an anthem for so many causes,” she said. The performance of Warren’s powerful “Stand Up for Something” at the show will include the head of #MeToo, along with other activists. Seacrest then wrapped the first hour with a conversation with Miguel, performer of “Remember Me” (from Pixar’s “Coco”), about what the song meant to him.
Meanwhile, ABC’s local and national pre-show specials featured interviews with Janney, a frontrunner for her role in “I, Tonya,” as well as the cast of cult hit and best picture nominee “Get Out,” Bradley Whitford, Lil Rel Howery, and Betty Gabriel, and Christopher Plummer, nominated for “All the Money in the World.” “Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya stopped to talk with the hosts of ABC’s “Oscar Opening Ceremonies” — “Good Morning America’s” Michael Strahan, “The Goldberg’s” Wendi McClendon Covey, “The View’s” Sara Haines and Vanity Fair’s Krista Smith — as did Salma Hayek, “I, Tonya” nominee Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, and Haddish.
Judd and Sorvino stopped for ABC’s spot to reference the #MeToo movement and the importance of the outpouring revelations from women in Hollywood about sexual harassment. Both actresses are among the boldface names who have spoken out recently about sexual misconduct and its impact on their careers.
Seacrest kicked off the second hour with Gael Garcia Bernal, who’s also performing “Remember Me,” followed by his “Live with Kelly and Ryan” co-host Kelly Ripa, along with her husband Mark Consuelos. Ripa made a public show of support for him last week, saying on their show, “I just want you to know, you are a privilege to work with and I adore you.”
At 3:15 p.m., he got his moment with Janney about her first time at the Oscars. “It’s a very exciting moment,” she told him. “It was an extraordinary story, and I loved every minute of it.” He then caught up with Plummer, who said, “In theater, disaster happens all the time,” of his last-minute substitution for Kevin Spacey, though Spacey — or the circumstances surrounding his exit — went unmentioned. He then chatted with Andy Serkis (“The Last Jedi,” “Black Panther”), Richard Jenkins (“Shape of Water”), and the “Get Out” trio of actors.
Seacrest also interviewed “Baby Driver” star Elza Gonzalez and “Mudbound” double-nominee Blige. Neither mentioned #MeToo or the allegations against Seacrest. Blige, who has been public about her own history of sexual abuse, made a point of telling the embattled host “I love y’all so much on the show,” referring to “Live With Kelly and Ryan” (although she stumbled over the show’s title). Haddish also lent support to Seacrest by telling him: “I’m so proud of you too” when she stopped to gush about her first trip to filmdom’s big night. “I remember when you first started. I was watching you,” she said as Seacrest beamed.
“Empire” star Taraji P. Henson went so far as to stroke his chin as she told Seacrest pointedly: “The universe has a way of taking care of the good people, you know what I mean.” Some on social media took that as a sly warning to Seacrest.
Seacrest also chatted with Common and Andra Day, performers of the Oscar-nominated tune “Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall.” Common and Day spoke of the activist message behind their song. “Taking action is the next step,” he told Seacrest. “We want people to be inspired. We can all change the world.”
Producers were said to be considering instituting a tape-delay procedure for today’s carpet, to avoid any such embarrassing moments. But in a statement to Variety, an E! spokesperson dismissed the story saying, “It’s business as usual. As always, we tape multiple sources of content simultaneously to deliver the best possible show, and there are often brief delays between interviews.”
Seacrest has denied the allegations, detailed in a story published Monday by Variety, that he repeatedly sexually harassed and abused Suzie Hardy during the six years that she worked as his stylist on “E! News.”
Hardy worked as Seacrest’s “E! News” personal stylist from 2006 to 2013, during which time she said Seacrest subjected her to consistent unwanted sexual aggression. Hardy accused Seacrest of groping her vagina, grinding his erect penis against her while clad only in his underwear, and at one point slapping her buttock so hard that it left a large welt still visible hours later.
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