I am delighted to read that Billy Crystal is back in as host of the Oscars.
That’s great news all around and another “gentle” reminder to Oscar that we need to remember what Oscar night is all about.
In 1929, the Oscar ceremony was created as a night during which the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (of which I have been a proud voting member since 1984) honors the top achievements each year in film. Yes, it was also designed as a self-congratulatory party for movie people to get together and impress each other, but its true underpinnings are about honoring the various crafts that combine together to create that magical experience called a film.
The initial Oscar ceremonies that were heard on radio and seen in newsreel footage were not considered big “mainstream” events; rather, Oscar night was designed by and for those who were specifically passionate about film.
Then television came along and (thanks to hosts like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson) the Oscars retained their charm for many decades; however, for many reasons including the proliferation of other movie award shows, Oscar ceremony ratings began to slip badly over all audience segments.
Unfortunately, ABC and the Academy decided that the ratings for the 18-49 year old “key demo” were so disappointing that “something had to be done” to attract younger viewers. As a result, we saw cringe-worthy attempts to win that audience back, culminating last year by hiring two terrific young actors, Anne Hathaway and James Franco, to host the show. While Ms. Hathaway made a game and sincere effort, Mr. Franco was so obviously bored, disrespectful, and out of his element that the show was an embarrassing fiasco.
Mr. Rattner then disqualified himself by making some tasteless public comments and Mr. Murphy (who indeed might have been a wonderful host) withdrew, paving the way for the triumphant return of Billy Crystal, one of the best hosts Oscar has ever had. There’s a reason that stand up comics have always been the best Oscar hosts: they know how to feel the vibe of an audience, ad lib, and make us laugh.
So, Academy, please take note:
Stop trying to be all things to all people.
Say goodbye to the ratings pressure of being on a major commercial network like ABC and put the Oscars on Turner Classic Movies or some other cable station whose sole focus is film. With no commercials (heaven!) and no need to pander, the show itself would be fast-paced and over in no more than two hours.
And remember that the Oscars are supposed to elevate the art form of film, not subject it to what’s considered “hip” in that particular moment. There’s a good reason that Nehru suits lasted only a season while tuxedos and long dresses have been around for decades.
Meanwhile, welcome back, Billy Crystal.
A lot of us have missed you.