We’re in the middle of this year’s Oscar Blitz, and today was going to be a scheduled day off from coverage of the 94th Academy Awards. The plan for today was to review the new movie Dog, starring Channing Tatum, and I may still do so later tonight. But after I posted last night’s entry focusing on Animated Feature, I saw a piece of news that demanded a reaction, so here we are.
First, let’s use this space as an opportunity to look at the hosts for this year’s broadcast. It was announced a few weeks ago that we would actually return to having a Master of Ceremonies after three years without one, a development for which I am very thankful. That said, when the choice was made, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive.
This year we will have three hosts: Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. This is the first time we’ve had multiple hosts since 2011, and I’d argue that really doesn’t count, as James Franco was stoned out of his gourd that year, leaving Anne Hathaway to pick up an inordinate amount of slack. There hasn’t been a three-way hosting gig in 35 years, so one could argue that the time is right to give it another go.
My issue isn’t with the hosts themselves. I think they’re all hilarious, and I legit had a crush on Amy Schumer for a lot of years. I’m not even going to harp on the fact that all of them have told jokes and tweeted stuff just as “offensive” – if not more so – than Kevin Hart did before he got cancelled, making this arguably both an overcorrection and a massive double standard.
My concern is that this makes the ceremony feel overstuffed before it even starts, and I can’t escape the fear that the trio will pull focus from one another, leading to a forgettable broadcast at best and a jumbled mess at worst. My doubts were not assuaged while reading the Academy’s press release, where ABC executive Craig Erwich said, “Imagine having one of the funniest women in comedy today hosting the Oscars… Now multiply that by three!” Yeah, the idea of, “Here’s something good, but MORE” is not exactly a selling point. More is not always better. Just ask the Gluttony victim from Se7en.
And it’s with that in mind that we get to the news that broke late last night. Per The Hollywood Reporter (and confirmed by several other sources, including the Academy itself), eight of the 23 categories for this year’s Oscars – as in more than 1/3 – will be awarded in a pre-taped ceremony an hour before the broadcast, then edited and inserted into the live show. On its face, this is allegedly an attempt to better engage with the viewing audience and shore up the runtime to keep it under three hours, something that it has not been able to do in decades, and having three hosts will only exacerbate that problem. But really, this is just about as insulting and disgusting as it gets.
First off, they already tried this three years ago. In 2018, in anticipation of the 91st Oscars, the Academy announced a plan – heavily influenced by ABC, which provides the vast majority of the funding for the telecast – that would introduce a Best Popular Picture category and shunt three categories to commercial breaks, with a brief montage of the winners later in the program. This was met with universal backlash from fans and industry insiders alike, to the point that the Academy had to walk it back almost instantly and restore the then-24 category ceremony to its normal form.
This time, we’re changing three to one in three, and the Academy is announcing it so late in the process (we’ve only got four and a half weeks until the show, whereas the 2018 ploy was months in advance) that it’ll be hard to undo it, even though once again the response has been swift and universally negative (THR for some reason believed it would be well-received by the general public despite obvious precedent). The basic argument that the Academy and ABC are making is that the show goes on too long and that TV viewers care more about the “Above the Line” categories, so they should be featured live while the others are relegated to afterthought, as is done for all the other “Big 4” awards shows, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Emmys, Grammys, and Tonys all have WAY more categories than the Oscars to necessitate the move.
As if to rub salt in the wound, Academy President David Rubin released this patronizing letter sent to the membership, which I will easily counter below:
Dear Fellow Academy Members,
We’re excited to present a 94th Oscars broadcast that both honors the year’s achievements in motion pictures and provides boundless entertainment for our global audience of movie lovers. After carefully listening to feedback and suggestions from our film community, our network partner, and all those who love the Oscars, it was evident we needed to make some decisions about the broadcast that are in the best interest of the future of our show and our organization.
When deciding how to produce the Oscars, we recognize it’s a live event television show and we must prioritize the television audience to increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant. This has been an important focus of discussion for quite some time. We do this while also remembering the importance of having our nominees relish a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In order to provide more time and opportunity for audience entertainment and engagement through comedy, musical numbers, film clip packages, and movie tributes, a change in the show’s production will take place. This year’s show producers and Academy leadership with oversight of the Oscars have made the decision, with endorsement from the officers and the Awards Committee, that every awards category must be featured on the television broadcast, though eight awards will initially be presented in the Dolby Theatre in the hour before the live broadcast begins.
They will not be presented in the pre-show nor on the red carpet, as some have speculated. Instead, the in-person ceremony at the Dolby Theatre will begin one hour earlier to present eight awards categories before the live telecast starts. Those presentations will then be edited by our creative and production teams and will be folded seamlessly into the live televised show.
To be clear, all the nominees in ALL awards categories will be identified on air and ALL winners’ acceptance speeches will be featured on the live broadcast. Every awarded filmmaker and artist in every category will still have the celebratory ‘Oscar moment’ they deserve on the stage of the Dolby, facing an enrapt audience.
For the audience at home, the show’s flow does not change, though it will become tighter and more electric with this new cadence, and the live broadcast should end – yes, with the Best Picture category – at the three-hour mark.
This year, those categories presented in the evening’s first hour and seen later in the live broadcast are, alphabetically: Documentary (Short Subject), Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Music (Original Score), Production Design, Short Film (Animated), Short Film (Live Action), and Sound.
The categories to be presented live on this year’s broadcast are, alphabetically: Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Animated Feature Film, Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Documentary (Feature), International Feature Film, Music (Original Song), Visual Effects, Writing (Adapted Screenplay), and Writing (Original Screenplay).
We realize these kinds of changes can prompt concern about equity, and we ask you to understand our goal has been to find a balance in which nominees, winners, members, and viewing audience all have a rewarding show experience. Moving forward we will assess this change and will continue to look for additional ways to make our show more entertaining and more thrilling for all involved, inside the Dolby Theatre and watching from home.
Every Academy branch and award category is indispensable to the success of a film and vital to this industry. Both our challenge and our goal is to create an exciting, streamlined Oscars show without sacrificing the long-held fundamentals of our organization. We appreciate your understanding and will be grateful for your unwavering support.
Okay, let’s break down this bullshit bit by bit. First you hope to produce “a” 94th Oscars broadcast? As in, there’s going to be more than one? Do you suddenly have competition? I know it sounds nitpicky in the extreme – and it is – but if you can’t be bothered to use proper articles in your first fucking sentence, you have no hope of being taken seriously.
Second, Rubin emphasizes feedback from the “film community, our network partner, and all those who love the Oscars,” neatly trying to couch and shoo away suspicion that this has anything to do with anyone else but the corporate masters at ABC and Disney. Because if they were truly listening to the film industry workers and the Oscar lovers, this idea would not even be entertained. We literally have precedent from less than four years ago about why this is a non-starter with everyone who is not a Disney suit. But hey, sandwich that part in between the people you’re misrepresenting to make it seem like everyone endorses this, even though it’s clear you did not consult the individual branches – especially the ones being downgraded for this experiment – or your actual membership. This was a decision done by board members and corporate entities, nothing more.
This sentence really pisses me off. “When deciding how to produce the Oscars, we recognize it’s a live event television show and we must prioritize the television audience to increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant.” Uh, no, you don’t need to prioritize the television audience. This is, first and foremost, an industry award given to and by professionals in that industry. You must prioritize THAT, not leave them as an afterthought by paying lip service to the idea of their “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” The reason the Oscars became a worldwide event was because people came to care about the awards that the Academy gave to its members and the films it honored. The relevant people came first, not a potential viewing audience. The Oscars weren’t created to become a great TV event, but the other way around. The TV event was created because the Oscars were great. The fact that you’ve clearly lost sight of that is as appalling as it is saddening.
This is in addition to the fact that every move the Oscars have made in their desperate attempt to reclaim ratings has been done in the exact opposite service of keeping the show “vital, kinetic, and relevant.” TV audiences, especially the younger demographics, are fickle, and the reason ratings have been plummeting in recent years is because the Academy keeps trying to pander to them without having any idea what they want (mostly because that very audience has no idea what it wants). Tell me, what’s “relevant” about masturbatory musical numbers that go on so long that you have to truncate the performances of the actual nominated songs? What is “kinetic” about having an omniscient voice announce a celebrity whose entire function is to bring the proceedings to a dead stop so they can then introduce the presenter for the next category, wasting everyone’s time? How are massive “For Your Consideration” campaigns that force a backloaded marketing and release model that renders most nominated films inaccessible to the general public until after they’re nominated, thereby ignoring everything audiences saw and enjoyed over the course of the year moot, in any way “vital?” How do any of those terms apply to the most insipid question in entertainment, “Who are you wearing?” What you’re imposing here is literally an antonym to all those buzzwords.
Moving on. “In order to provide more time and opportunity for audience entertainment and engagement through comedy, musical numbers, film clip packages, and movie tributes, a change in the show’s production will take place.” Again, how do you a) not realize that it’s all these things that make the show run too long, b) not understand that this is the stuff your loyal audience hates, and c) gets endlessly mocked by the few casual viewers who tune in for five minutes?
We don’t need “movie tributes,” like the wholly ill-advised “Fan Favorite” and “Cheer Moment” segments that WILL get live attention, and we never once asked for such nonsense. We love comedy, but it has to be tight. Have your three hosts (again, ideally just one) tell good, quick jokes, and leave it at that. The only musical numbers should be full-length performances of the nominated Original Songs, not a bunch of choreographed bullshit that serves no purpose. Once in a while it’s fine, like when Hugh Jackman hosted and showed off his stage presence in an opening number, but that’s it. Nothing afterward. As much as I love Eminem, there was no reason to have him perform “Lose Yourself” two years ago after he didn’t show up 20 years previous. And it was insulting as all get out to have Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga do a full rendition of “Shallow,” knowing it would win, while the other four nominees were limited to 30 seconds each. That’s not engaging, that’s showing blatant favoritism. The only film clip packages should be during the reading of the nominees for each category. There used to be a place for montages of the Best Picture nominees when there were still just five and you could pepper them throughout the show. But now there are 10, and all of them are nominated in other categories, so trust me, the audience gets its fill of footage, so you don’t need them. How is this hard?
Next Rubin tries to buy back the sentiment by noting that everyone agreed we must see all the categories, and that they wouldn’t be awarded in the pre-show and red carpet nonsense (if you want to save time, cut the pre-show, which no one watches; you can leave the red carpet stuff in, as there’s always been an audience for that). That’s a crucial distinction, because these awards will now be handed out during that crap, just not aired live. As such, the “enrapt” audience that Rubin describes will still be filing into the theatre while this is going on, and there will be a ton of press outside ready to leak all eight winners the moment they’re announced. There is not a single protocol you can put in place to prevent this. It will happen.
He says that the pre-taped segments will be edited and “folded seamlessly into the live television show.” This is an impossible promise. How do I know this? Because I’ve worked as a live broadcast editor. I occasionally work for Fox Sports in this capacity, where a whole team of editors and producers have to cut highlights and video packages, as well as monitor game feeds for tape-delayed update segments called “Game Breaks.” There’s a whole litany of things that can go wrong in this equation, from computers crashing, to footage not rendering properly, to control room equipment not playing back correctly, to simple human error. It’s live TV. This shit happens regularly. You cannot guarantee a seamless process, and it’s foolhardy and/or ignorant to think you can.
Finally, with a cheeky acknowledgement that it was a mistake to not end with Best Picture last year – as if that makes up for all the other massive errors – Rubin assures us that the ceremony will be under three hours (spoiler, it won’t; you wouldn’t have three hosts competing for screen time if you cared about this at all), and that all the nominees will be named and seen, and that the winners will get the “Oscar moment” they deserve. Except, by the very nature of what you’re doing, they won’t. This is some Animal Farm shit right here, where you’re flat out saying that all awards are equal, but some are more equal than others, and again, it’s insulting in the extreme to pretend that we don’t notice this. He closes by promising to assess the change moving forward, which is about as disingenuous as what Survivor did last season. They introduced a twist at the merge to let one player, essentially chosen at random and with no knowledge, to undo the results of the previous challenge and rescind the immunity those players won, instead giving it to herself and those who lost the challenge (she later won the whole season, so I’m sure the producers think it was the right move), only to then respond to the insult by asking the offended players to pitch them ideas for how to tweak it for future seasons. Insisting on this change without the membership’s input but then promising to totally listen to them after the fact is the exact same thing, and it is absolutely “sacrificing the long-held fundamentals” of the Academy.
Because let’s abandon the pretense here and understand the real reason why these categories are, for all intents and purpose, being cut. It’s because of ABC – and by extension Disney – trying to control the content. In addition to the normal avarice of wanting more ways to shoehorn ad revenue in, be it longer commercial breaks or allowing studios to sponsor segments within the telecast to tease their upcoming projects (thus pre-biasing the jury), there’s a pretty obvious common bond among the excised.
Let’s look at the categories themselves. As I said, you’d have a pure revolt on your hands if you got rid of the “Above the Line” categories – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and Original and Adapted Screenplay. That’s eight categories right there, leaving 15 eligible for the chopping block. Realistically, you can’t get rid of International Feature or Documentary Feature if you want to maintain any semblance of credibility with your worldwide audience, so now we’re down to 13, of which only five can survive.
The nominees in those fields tell the whole story:
Documentary Short – 0 Disney nominees
Live Action Short – 0 Disney nominees
Animated Short – 0 Disney nominees (for the first time since 2009)
Film Editing – 0 Disney nominees
Sound – 0 Disney nominees (the closest you have is the West Side Story remake, which is distributed by 20th Century Studios, which Disney now owns, but the film was produced outside the House of Mouse)
Production Design – 0 Disney nominees (Nightmare Alley has Searchlight distribution to join West Side Story)
Makeup & Hairstyling – 1 Disney nominee (Cruella, which has very low odds to win)
Original Score – 1 Disney nominee (Encanto, which has very low odds to win)
Now look at the five categories that survived untouched:
Animated Feature – 3 Disney nominees (including Encanto as the likely winner)
Visual Effects – 3 Disney nominees
Costume Design – 1 Disney nominee (Cruella, which has much higher odds of victory than for Makeup)
Original Song – 1 Disney nominee (“Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto, which has moderate-to-high odds of winning because it means an EGOT for Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Cinematography – 0 Disney nominees (though it should be noted that because it has the exact same slate as Production Design, they can have plausible deniability of trying to avoid redundancy)
That’s the real reason this is happening. Disney is insisting on being featured disproportionately to the Netflix and Warner Bros. properties (chiefly The Power of the Dog and Dune) that are likely to have the most success on Oscar Night. They’re demanding that every category where they’re either not nominated or have no realistic chance to win (with Cinematography being the one exception) be purged. This has nothing to do with ratings. This has nothing to do with audience engagement. This is purely Business Daddy threatening to withhold the Academy’s allowance unless they get preferential treatment and the ability to outright lie to the audience about the quality of their output.
This is supposed to win back viewers? Really? Because from where I sit, all you’re doing is alienating the loyal fans you still have left, myself included, through an act of pure ass-kissing. This is a scam and a scandal, and the fact that the Academy is being so obvious about the grift while gaslighting its own membership and the film community writ large is almost unforgivable. They could give Best Picture to Space Jam: A New Legacy and not harm their integrity and credibility as much as they’re doing with this move.
Join the conversation in the comments below! Are you okay with this move? What do you think of the hosts (I didn’t forget them)? Which category were you looking forward to seeing live that you now can’t? Let me know!