Speaking at the official annual pre-Oscars luncheon for nominees, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Sid Ganis promised that this weekend's Academy Awards telecast will be “truly different.”
This year, ABC has Hugh Jackman as host and Bill Condon and Laurence Mark as producers, so different is a given. Neither Condon nor Mark, who teamed behind the scenes on the musical Dreamgirls, has much TV experience. Jackman's last film, Australia, was a box-office disappointment, and few people saw his well-regarded turns as host of Broadway's Tony Awards.
But prudent change is never a bad thing. A good start for Ganis would be to ax the annual speech by the, ahem, academy president.
Why allow the producer of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo to prattle on about the movies' contributions to humanity, while Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz and the guy who edited Slumdog Millionaire are hustled away after 45 seconds?
This is the entertainment industry. Which promises more drama?
That's the problem. Ganis said the 81st annual Oscars is “going to be a show that takes some risks,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. He warns this year's nominees: “Your categories are being presented in a completely different way. Heads up.”
How the categories are presented isn't the problem. The reading of the names, the envelope, the winner, the speech — that is the Oscars. Mess with that and you risk wrecking a brand as strong as Hollywood itself.
Ratings for the Academy Awards show tend to ebb and flow with the box-office power of its nominees. But it is one of the most-watched TV shows for the same reason that pumpkins are popular at Halloween — tradition.
If the academy wants to change some things, it should choose from the other side of the menu.
■ Cut the live musical numbers. And no, dancers don't help. Notice a lot of singing in prime time? Exactly.
■ Scrap the presenters' “awards show banter.” Viewers just want to see how they look and what they're wearing. Tell them to explain the category and maybe what it means to them, roll the nominees clip, announce the winner and step aside.
■ Pre-produce the honorary awards segments. A speech can be incorporated into the taped piece. No movie producers would allow a monologue to go on that long.
Some excesses are to be expected. It is the Academy Awards. And ABC wants more show so it can have more commercial breaks, even in a weak ad market.
But filmmakers know that everything starts to drag after three hours. Don't waste the audience's time.
Benjamin Button is the only person who will feel younger when it's over.