Whether or not the Hollywood writers’ strike nixes this year’s Academy Awards telecast, it may be time to kill the show.
Nothing quite motivates Hollywood like the prospect of a global calamity that only a heavy dose of stardust can avert. Disease. World hunger. Supplying Larry King with a steady stream of interviews so he can stay off the unemployment line. This year’s impending tragedy is, of course, far worse than those. The Oscar telecast might die. How will the world ever escape the darkness that will befall it if we are deprived of our annual evening of glitter and blather? The writers’ strike is obviously serious business, but the public has sacrificed quite enough by forgoing the return of “24.” Jack Bauer, please rescue the Oscars!
On the other hand, maybe Jack should keeping lying low. Who needs the Oscars, anyway, other than the chosen few nominees and the hangers-on who love them? The fact is, the Oscar telecast (scheduled for Feb. 24, assuming some sort of miracle) is the worst three hours and 27 minutes on television, and it has held that distinction for years and years and years. Go ahead, try to think of something, anything, memorable from a telecast in the last, say, five years. The witty host’s monologue? The moving acceptance speeches? The outfits? Sure, you can remember that such staples existed, along with a cute joke or moving moment or two. But considering the length of the show, those tidbits don’t convert to a very high on-base percentage. And considering the anticipation and hype that precede the show every year, this is one pretty awful excuse for A-list entertainment.
Don’t agree? Think about the most memorable moments from the show in recent years. Most memorable acceptance speech: Halle Berry’s endless tearfest. Dress: Bjork, dressed as a swan. Host shtick: David Letterman’s “Uma-Oprah” monologue. Presenter’s moment: Elizabeth Taylor’s addled “GLAD-i-a-tor!” Production number (a tie): Rob Lowe meets Snow White, and any of the best-song montages choreographed by Debbie Allen. That’s some hit parade, isn’t it?
I exaggerate, of course. (A little.) The Oscars have served up some amusing crumbs, though I was so hard pressed to remember any of them, I went back and read reviews of the last three years’ telecasts, and the most promising stuff I found was the orchestra cutting off Al Gore in midsentence (2007), Jon Stewart ending up in bed with George Clooney in the year of “Brokeback Mountain” (2006), and, well, I thought Chris Rock was hilarious, but apparently Hollywood was not amused when he mocked the acting prowess of Tobey Maguire and Colin Farrell, so maybe you can’t count that.
That’s a big part of the problem. The Oscars has become the multinational corporation of television shows, so it’s afraid to offend anyone. This is live television, but it feels as if it was freeze-dried back in 1956. I so wish that a streaker would run across the stage, or some senior citizen attempt a one-handed push-up, or Janet Jackson were a better actress so she could get into the building and give us a wardrobe malfunction. There is no spontaneity, no life. It’s much easier to watch the highlights on E! and save three hours of my life. And don’t try to tell me that Billy Crystal would solve the problem. Going back to ghosts of Oscars past is the surest way to make it more irrelevant than it already is.
So what to do? Shorten the telecast, for one. The SAG Awards clipped along nicely at two hours, and it could have even been shorter. I know there are contractual reasons that so many of those second-tier and technical awards have to be presented on-air, but seeing how we’re in a new contractual season, maybe something can be done about that. When you’ve won an Oscar for best animated short, the statue should be enough recognition, thank you.
The telecast’s producers should certainly find a way to make the show more fun. I’d love to see someone—Jack Nicholson is my first choice—slimed with green gunk, in an homage to the infinitely more enjoyable Kid’s Choice Awards. One of my favorite parts of the Emmys is the nominations for best talk or variety show. Not surprisingly, they all make hilarious tapes to accompany the long list of nominated writers. My favorite this year was from Bill Maher’s folks, who placed themselves in a series of bathroom stalls, with various combinations of tapping (and moving and kicking) toes, à la disgraced Sen. Larry Craig. At the end of the list, the last stall door flew open, Maher stepped out, gave himself a squirt of breath spray, and went on his way. The Oscar folks would never go for something as risqué—and brilliant—as that. So who cares if the entire thing vanishes this year. Frankly, I’d just as soon see the whole thing flushed away for good.