1. Screw the ratings and produce the best possible show you can. In past years, the Academy and the producers of the Oscars have gotten really antsy about the ratings. The Oscars audience has slowly eroded over the years, especially among younger viewers. As you many know, advertisers love that younger 18-49 age demographic, so if they Oscars start to lose that demo, ABC can charge less money for ad time. This means that the Academy has a weaker stance when they negotiate the Oscars' broadcast rights with ABC. This translates into the Academy losing money and, for now, the Oscar telecast is their only source of income. So, they try to produce a show that will appeal to younger viewers. This results in hosts like the aforementioned Mr. MacFarlane and (shudders) James Franco. It also results in inviting presenters who will allegedly bring in younger viewers, people like the Twilight cast. Kristen Stewart is usually trotted out to accomplish this, in varying degrees of stoned. Every year she looks more and more uncomfortable. Shouldn’t that get better as she gets older? She’s the Benjamin Button of awkwardness. In a couple of years, the Academy will be opening a movie museum at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax here in Los Angeles. They will finally have a second form of income. My advice is to not worry one iota about the ratings and just produce the best possible show. You lose Axe Body Spray as a sponsor? So be it.
2. Hire Neil Patrick Harris to host it. Neil has hosted practically every awards show in town, New York, too. You know what? He kills it. Every. Single. Time. He was born to host these things. He’s able to rib the stars without coming off as mean or confrontational. He brings Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman along as songwriters. He walks that tightrope of being genuine and smarmy. He sings. He’s got outstanding comedy chops. He’s gay. He’s perfect for this. But, I’ve always heard they’ll never hire him to host the Oscars, because he’s seen as a “TV guy” and not a “movie guy.” Huh? What kind of logic is that? NPH was in that dreadful Smurfs movie. That was a big hit. The sequel comes out this summer. Surely that makes him a movie guy as much as, say, Seth MacFarlane, right? The great Johnny Carson wasn’t a movie guy, and he was one of the best Oscar hosts in history.
3. Use the Tony Awards as your template. The most entertaining of these awards shows is always, by far, the Tonys. It’s also, by far, the lowest rated. A lot of that is due to Broadway theater being so specific to one city and so incredibly expensive. But, any show that can casually throw out Sutton Foster leading the company of Anything Goes in a spectacularly giddy tap number scores points for the sheer spectacle. A case can probably be made that the talent pool in New York is more classically trained and versatile than LA, but that doesn’t mean that LA doesn’t have enough singers and hoofers to put on a show. I would think the LA area stars who have musical theater backgrounds would leap at the chance to show off those skills to a billion people. The Tony Awards are respectful and honor achievement but dosn’t take themselves nearly as seriously as the Oscars do. Follow that lead, Academy. Make it fun! If only there was a frequent Tonys host your could hire . . . .
4. Show some respect. I know the guilds will never allow their categories to be bumped out of prime time like the Grammys have done. And, the truth is they shouldn’t be. There’s no question in my mind that Roger Deakins’ contribution to the industry or John Williams’ contribution are every bit as vital as George Clooney’s. George Clooney would probably be the first person to agree with me. Just because they aren’t celebrities doesn’t mean they should be treated like second-class citizens. There’s no onscreen talent in the Dolby Theater that hasn’t been aided by being beautifully photographed or judiciously edited. No actors have gotten to the Oscars without great writers creating great roles. Playing the below-the-line talent off, cutting the microphone, or seating them in the back of the theater is just plain wrong. How great was Ben Affleck’s speech about his marriage? It was honest and moving. If the speeches get cut, then those moments are lost.
5. Keep it moving. This year’s Oscar show ran upwards of four hours and nobody seemed concerned that they were going way, way over their allotted time. Seth’s opening monologue was 16 minutes long. That’s way too much time. There’s nothing that needs to happen that shouldn’t fit in three hours. This year they seemed bound and determined to pack as many musical numbers as they could, often at the expense of winners’ acceptance speeches. If nothing else, shouldn’t this show be about the winners? If anybody knows that sometimes you have to cut scenes you love for the betterment of the show, it should be movie people.
6. Fix the banter. Something amazing happened at the 2013 Oscars. Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy presented and they bombed. Their banter was awful and that seemed to be compounded by technical problems that plagued the whole show. How in the world can you make these two people unfunny? I thought that was impossible. I am fine with having comedians present the tech awards, as it allows the show to punch up segments the audience may not find all that interesting. Assign those presenters ahead of time and let them write their own banter. You could even get an industry savvy comedy writer like Judd Apatow to help. So much effort seems to go into the host’s opening monologue, but there are three hours of show after that.
7. Fix the tech problems. You’re industry pros. There’s no excuse for a show as big as the Oscars to have technical issues. Fix it.
Presto! It’s fixed!