UPDATE: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences just made it official.
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve just learned that Eddie Murphy has officially agreed to host the 84th Academy Awards. Today, Oscar producer Brett Ratner is formally telling the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences that he’s chosen Murphy to emcee the Oscars and an announcement will be made. I broke the news over Labor Day weekend that Ratner was in talks with Murphy and was going to offer AMPAS President Tom Sherak only the comedian’s name to host. I was told that a lot of big names had approached the other 84th Academy Awards producer Don Mischer saying they are interested in hosting, and Don was fielding those calls. Brett’s talks with Murphy had been along the lines of, “If the Academy asked you to host, would you accept?” I learned that Eddie has now formally said yes. This is coming months earlier than normal because usually the Oscars host isn’t chosen or announced until January. But everyone is eager to get out the news now. I do know that Murphy’s Hollywood agency WME thinks it’d be a real coup for Murphy’s dormant career, which is about to get a kick-start. That’s because the veteran comedian is starring in the Brett Ratner-directed and Imagine/Universal-produced Tower Heist action laugher with Ben Stiller that opens on November 4th and is receiving great buzz. So Murphy and Ratner already have a close relationship, and this would be a way for Brett to put his personal stamp on 2012′s broadcast. Plus Murphy is starring in the DreamWorks dramedy film A Thousand Words scheduled for release on January 12th.
Eddie, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2006′s Dreamgirls but lost, is said to worship the Oscars. “Nobody knows movies better or is a bigger cinephile than Eddie. Not Brett. Not even Quentin Tarantino. Eddie can quote scenes from every single movie word for word,” an insider tells me. “He can bring all that experience to hosting. Plus he has Saturday Night Live experience before a live crowd. And worldwide the biggest crossover comedians are Will Smith and Eddie Murphy.” That’s important because a huge part of the Academy Awards telecast audience is global. And with two movies opening before the Oscars, Murphy could benefit from the publicity bonanza especially overseas where international releases usually follow U.S. openings by several months. Besides, the Academy has been after more diversity which is why this October it’s honoring James Earl Jones and Oprah Winfrey (even though she’s much more of a TV personality than a movie star or filmmaker).
The comedy and urban entertainment website Humor Mill posted first an exclusive (sourced from several close friends of Eddie’s) that Murphy was a done deal. But I’ve confirmed it wasn’t until today. A decision like this to host the Academy Awards is made by committee with a star and his/her reps and pals weighing all the pro and con options. Which is why the Academy has such a tough time finding new hosts every year because it can be such a career-altering decision. Meanwhile, I hear that veteran Billy Crystal, who recently expressed interest in hosting again, will almost certainly be incorporated into the show in some marquee way.
This is now the 4th straight year that Deadline has first reported the host of the Academy Awards, including Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and now Eddie Murphy. Although there was tremendous excitement and anticipation over Franco and Hathaway hosting last year, the pair laid an egg onstage. So the general concensus was that the Oscars needed to return to a comedian to emcee. In recent years of Oscar telecasts, even going back decades, the ceremony has been emceed by mostly TV or movie comedians — whether Will Rogers and George Jessel in the 1930s, Bob Hope off and on for the next three decades, Johnny Carson in the 1980s, even David Letterman in 1995. In the 1990s and 2000s, there’s been a mix of film funny people like Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Steve Martin as well as stand-up comedians and TV personalities like Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart. When the producers of the 81st Oscars decided to omit the stand-up portion of the show (since these one-liners are usually understood only by the movie industry and leave TV viewers bewildered), it opened up the possibility of an actor hosting again. But that flopped for the 83rd telecast.
There was a period in the 1970s when groups of actors emceed: 1973 when Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson did it as an ensemble; 1974: John Huston, Diana Ross, Burt Reynolds, and David Niven; 1976, Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, George Segal, Goldie Hawn, and Gene Kelly; 1977, Richard Pryor, Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, and Warren Beatty. Only a few thesps have hosted the show by themselves, including first AMPAS president and one of the founders Douglas Fairbanks, followed by Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery, and Jack Lemmon, when the Oscars consisted of an awards banquet, then a radio show, and ultimately a globally broadcast TV spectacle.
Hosting the Academy Awards is like performing the most dangerous stunt imaginable for a Hollywood actor or actress. It’s playing the biggest room with a worldwide TV audience and working in front of a live audience at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. “There’s no job quite like it in the world,” Bruce Vilanch, the writer of more than two decades of Oscar shows, told Deadline last time around. “You have to entertain this industry crowd. You have to stay cool when the lights are blazing down. You’ve got to move things along. And you’ve got to be charming without offending anyone.” There was general consensus that Steve Martin (who hosted on his own twice) paired with Alec Baldwin were a breezy and classy twosome last time around. So the feeling now is to keep the hosts in the movie family. Whoopi Goldberg was the first woman to fly solo, and her four hosting stints were considered a mixed bag. But by her final two efforts, she’d figured out how to blend wit with charm. In her wake, Ellen De Generes proved to be fun, self-deprecating, and clever as emcee, as well as unafraid to interact with superstars in the audience. Unfortunately for Oscar, both women are now TV talk stars. But it’s not just the host that matters but also the movies. The most-viewed Oscarcast continues to be the 1998 show Crystal hosted that honored James Cameron’s Titanic.