Everyone pays extra special attention to the Oscars when they screw up. Potentially being forced to go without a host after Kevin Hart-gate qualifies as a pretty big screw-up but could make for better ratings and a better show.
Earlier this year, everyone was making the same joke online about MoviePass, sharing memes of burning offices as a rough approximation of the behind the scenes reality of what was quite clearly an imploding business. Well, go find those pictures again and simply swap out “MoviePass” and use “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences” instead because the organization that hands out the Oscars every year looks an awful lot like a dumpster fire these days.
In just the past year, the Academy:
- Oversaw the least-watched Oscars telecasts in history
- Had its president John Bailey accused of sexual harassment by multiple individuals, charges the Academy “thoroughly reviewed and considered” before clearing Bailey to remain in his job.
- Withstood an insurrection from its own board of governors, which has now seen multiple members resign in frustration before taking their complaints public (“Too much change!” shouts one defector while another shouts “Not changing fast enough!”)
- Rushed out a proposed Best Popular Film category before it was ready for public consumption thus predictably ending with them having to walk it back completely
- Couldn’t find anyone who wanted to host next year’s Oscars ceremony. Typically, hosts are announced half a year in advance, yet with just two months left to go until the show, the Academy hadn’t hired a host.
- Then they hired Kevin Hart without properly vetting his Twitter history, which should be the standard operating procedure by now. Bad things happened. Hart quit within 48 hours of being announced as host. America remains divided over how to feel about it. However, THR polling indicates the one entity which came out of this looking the worst is the Academy since some blame them for hiring Hart in the first place while others believe they went too far in forcing him to either apologize or quit.
- Plus, that long-planned film museum in Los Angeles has been delayed. Again. Given its multiple delays and cost overruns, the museum has become a source of running ridicule in LA.
Granted, welcome to 2018, a time when one long-cherished institution after another shows just how vulnerable and unprepared they are for these rapidly-changing times. What’s happening here is not unique. As everyone’s joking on Twitter, which job do you want right now, Trump’s Chief of Staff or hosting the Oscars?
Still, this is not a good look for the film industry, and now the Academy faces the very real possibility of having to give its coveted Best Picture award to a Netflix movie, Alfonso Cuaron’s widely beloved Roma. While that distinction matters less and less to actual audiences and movie fans, them’s fighting words for some of the Academy’s senior guard, like Steven Spielberg, who famously said anything which streams online instead of playing in theaters should simply be regarded as a TV movie.
What are they going to do now that Netflix caved and played Roma in theaters for three exclusive weeks before its streaming debut? A Roma Best Picture win is far from guaranteed. THR had projected the Best Picture race to be a two-horse contest between A Star is Born and Roma, with A Star is Born earning the slight edge. That might change after Roma was passed over for a SAG ensemble nomination this morning, but it’s still a serious enough contender to likely make some Academy members uncomfortable.
Whatever is going to happen with the actual awards is simply going to play out however the voters see fit. The Academy has more pressing matters to figure out, like finding a new host and throwing together an award shows that just so happens to provide the overwhelming majority of the Academy’s revenue. There’s also the ongoing problems of plunging viewership totals and particularly damning surveys which find that over half of the country goes into each Oscars ceremony without having seen any of the Best Picture nominees (that should at least improve this year thanks to Black Panther’s all-but-guaranteed nomination).
As of this writing, they have just 74 days left to figure it out.
Given that time crunch, an intriguing rumor has been making the rounds: the Oscars might go host-less this year, relying instead on a rotating bunch of celebrities and the presenters to offer commentary/comedy. It’s been done before, to great critical fanfare between 1969 and 1971, less so in 1989 and the Rob Lowe/Snow White disaster that ruined producer Allan Carr’s career.
Merv Griffin! You always hear about the Rob Lowe part of that, but what was Merv Griffin doing there?
So, obviously, we don’t want a repeat of that, but if done right a host-less telecast could provide relief on multiple fronts, as spelled out by Deadline:
Losing the host will do much to reduce the show’s political volatility and might open the door to viewers who have been fleeing the barbed politics of past awards broadcasts in droves. Individual winners, presenters, or “Friends of the Oscar” — a term Champion used for the ensemble of super-stars who anchored his 1969 broadcast — will surely lob a partisan bomb here and there. But the nonexistent host will feel no pressure to signal virtue or establish his or her anti-Trump bona fides, thus pleasing half the audience and losing the rest.
Ditching the Oscar host will be an attention-getter. People get interested in the Academy when it somehow screws up. A favorite feature of the 2017 show was the last-minute mess, when La La Land briefly received a Best Picture Oscar that belonged to Moonlight. So why not play into the Kevin Hart screw-up? Eliminate the host, and more than a few lost viewers will tune in to see what happens.
What they will see, mercifully, is a shorter show. Under the Oscar format, as it has evolved in the last decade or so, producers are obliged to feature the host at least three times, at the beginning, middle and end of the ceremony. That has stretched the program toward four hours, beyond the endurance of many. Without a host, nominated songs will almost inevitably move to the top of the show, clearing time in the middle for, of all things, the awards.
All the Entertainment with None of the PR Headaches
As in the no-host shows of a half-century past, continuity will likely be carried by a group of movie stars. Believe it or not, they are entertaining, watchable people. If one or two get called out in advance for unseemly tweets or other violations, they are, to put it coldly, expendable. You can lose them without damaging the broadcast.
Given the year they’ve had to this point, pretty much nothing the Academy does is going to please everyone, and the LA Times currently regards the chances of there being a truly host-less Oscars 2019 ceremony as pretty low. But, like just about every other awards show out there right now the Oscars are hemorrhaging viewers. It’s time to change things up.
The Academy has already been doing that for years now, offering voting privileges to a record number of new, diverse voices. Meanwhile, the telecast itself has been constantly pulled between honoring ceremony and history and wanting to do anything other than hand out actual awards. That’s so boring, they seem to think. Can’t we do something more entertaining and viral stunt-y? This internal conflict will likely continue, and nothing the Academy does, even nominating Black Panther, might be enough to reverse the rating plunge. However, everyone’s talking about the Academy’s screw-ups and lack of a host right now. Why not lean into that and just move forward with no host whatsoever? It would certainly get attention.
What do you think? In the hierarchy of pop culture things you care about, does “Oscars host” even register? Do you even watch the Oscars anymore? Would some of what I’ve discussed here add extra intrigue for you? Or should the Academy work harder to repair the damage done to its standing within the LGBTQ community and hire a host who can advance understanding in a way Kevin Hart refused to? Let me know in the comments.