Judging by the decline in ratings, the uproar over a strikingly caucasian line-up of nominees and plenty of people’s attention focused on hearing Donald Trump blather on about politics, I may be one of the few people looking forward to the Academy Awards. People are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the exclusion of non-white actors to this year’s festivities will finally wake Hollywood up and cast some diversity into its films. That discussion is being had everywhere, and by people smarter than me. So, I will instead concentrate on what I love about the Oscars and what they can do to draw in more viewers.
By my own admission, I’m an Oscar junkie. It is my Super Bowl. For two and a half decades, my wife and I gather our friends together, put out a spread and watch the party unfold. I’m sold. But even I can see there is plenty of room for improvement.
Like other 87-year-olds, the Oscars are not exactly as young as they used to be. What started as a luncheon to celebrate the best in the film industry — with the winners announced beforehand — is now a live-TV spectacle of epic scale, and showing some bloat.
For an 87 year-old, Oscar looks pretty good. Last year’s host, Neil Patrick Harris, was good. Very good. But he fell into the same trap too many hosts have succumbed to over the years: he made too much of the evening about him. Find a host, stick with them and let them have the opening monologue, but kill the opening song. It’s not funny. Not ever. Not when Billy Crystal did it, not when Bob Hope did. Seeing Anne Hathaway and James Franco try it made me cringe.
Get the host on, make some jokes about how beautiful everyone is and how hideously lucky we are to be watching and cut to crowd shots of whichever starlet has the kickiest hair-do and which young stud figured out how to wear a tuxedo well. Then go to the awards. Make it moderately fast paced, but let the winners speak. That is usually the most interesting part.
Let the Winners Enjoy Their Moment, Even If They Take More Than a Moment.
If the Best Supporting Actor wants to get political, or touching and sentimental, or shill his new Superhero franchise, let him. If the Best Actress wants to advocate shelter pet adoption, or make a plug for women’s rights, awesome. This is not a call for controversy for controversy’s sake; but the less canned “I would like to thank my momma and Elvis” the better. Michael Moore’s “Shame on you, President Bush” speech from years ago made half of the people at our party grumble and half cheer. But it brought life to the room. It made the rest of the night must-watch television. There have been moments when the Oscars made a person notice.
I have vivid memories of Roberto Benigni climbing over chairs, Jack Palance doing one-armed push-ups, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck jumping up and down. All of those moments beat the over-staged renditions of the songs nominated for an award. Let the winners get excited, humbled, overjoyed or just flat-out crazy. It beats hearing “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey or the rest of the soulless tunes nominated this year.
Get Better Jokes
Here’s a small idea that will help, have the presenters be funny too. It is painful to watch the bad dialogue between the duo handing over the statue after reading the nominees on stage. Have someone funny actually write the jokes. The show is in Hollywood, people. Walk into Genghis Cohen deli at midnight and you’ll find ten aspiring writers willing to work cheap. The end result will be better than the epic failure of small talk on stage as far back as I can remember.
Stop the long features on the Best Picture nominees.
They kill the energy and momentum of the telecast. They seem shoehorned in-between commercials. Why not have a two hour special highlighting the nominees broadcast before the Oscars. Get some of the people from AMC and have them put together a high-quality preview.
Show the clips, talk to the people behind the films, interview previous Oscar winners on air to compare and contrast the films up for the big six awards. That could be a strong counterpart to the Oscar telecast and give cinephiles an overdose of the stuff they enjoy. Put the program on the night before. Play up the event, you can even work in the nominated songs in a creative way. Make it a two or three day event. The Super Bowl gets a week, movies should get at least two days.
Ask Better Questions on the Red Carpet.
Joan Rivers is dead, so is the question “Who are you wearing?” So many women in the film industry have incredible things to say. Perhaps the pre-show hosts can ask about something other than shoes? By all means, ask about the outfit or the bag, or the new haircut, but mix in questions about screenplays, architecture, politics, the Padres chances of making it to the World Series… anything to add depth.
Keep the ‘In Memoriam’ Segment
There is a rich history in Hollywood, and it is not going to be here forever. Salute the people that have left us, but also make a point to invite the oldest Oscar winners to the event and have them play a role in the evening. Eva Marie Saint is still alive, so are Olivia deHavilland, Dorothy Malone and George Kennedy, Lee Grant, Cloris Leachman, Estelle Parsons, Sidney Poitier, Martin Landau and Christopher Plummer.
Change the Rules to Include More Films and More People
In 2009, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a fairly significant change to its rules, adding to the event. The number of nominees for Best Picture increased from five to 10. Sure, the change was made to allow for blockbusters to get Best Picture nods, which would engage the moviegoing public. The thinking was it would lure people to watch the Oscar telecast. That rule was changed in 2011—now there are anywhere between five and 10 nominees, decided by the Academy itself. The rule has added at least one or two wrinkles to the show.
It’s a Party, Enjoy
Above all, the people on stage and behind the scenes should remember, it’s a party, a celebration, an evening of fun. Show the world why they should watch a show that is free celebrating films they paid good money to see.