The bottom line, as Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Tom Sherak told me this morning, is that, “I wanted to stay in Hollywood. And the Board Of Governors said the awards should definitely stay in Hollywood. I think the Board always felt the awards belonged in Hollywood. There is a connection between the Oscars and Hollywood, and the feeling was it was the right place to stay.” January 11th when reports in other trades were strongly indicating a possible move by the Oscars out of the then-named Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland (to most likely the Nokia downtown), I said this was highly improbable. And now with today’s announcement, scooped by Deadline, that CIM has made a naming-rights deal with Dolby and signed a new 20-year lease for the Oscars with the Academy, no move happened. And quite frankly it never was seriously going to happen. As I wrote then, it took the Academy over 40 years to return to Hollywood after detours to the Santa Monica Civic and the Shrine and the Music Center, and the illustrious movie organization wasn’t about to give up so easily. Prior to the debut show at the Kodak Theatre in 2002, the last time the quintessential Hollywood awards show was actually in Hollywood was at the Pantages Theatre in 1961. Plus the Kodak, now Dolby Theatre, was and is a beautiful venue for the show even if doesn’t have half the seating capacity of the Nokia or the Shrine.
In fact Sherak always indicated to me that the Academy was only negotiating with CIM but also had to be open to the best possible deal so other options were being considered. But there were no negotiations ever in that regard. Of course the Academy did not have any direct connection with negotiations over who was going to replace Kodak on the marquee. But it did have veto rights over that naming decision.
Sherak told me CIM came to him a month ago asking for approval of the Dolby name. The Academy had absolutely no problem with that. “I think Dolby is probably the grandfather in the generation of changes in movie sound. Dolby might be 50 years old [it was founded in 1965] but 50 is the new 35. They’ve kept up with the times and it was the only name given to us for our approval.” A presentation was made at the Academy’s last meeting of the Board Of Governors, which decided to give the go-ahead to make the lease deal with CIM. Previously Sherak said there was no rush because the option wasn’t up until the 2014 Oscarcast. But it was decided to get this done sooner than later. He said the relationship between the Academy and CIM is a good one and that, like any good partnership, both sides needed to walk away happy — and did.
Although the Academy did some fine shows outside of Hollywood, particularly at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, the Hollywood & Highland location just seemed to add a little something extra. Plus millions of tourists come to the venue to see the displays of Best Picture winners lining the massive stairways of the complex. It gives the Academy, and of course the newly named Dolby Theatre, mutual branding. And as I’ve noted before, the Nokia is home to the Emmys so a move there would have triggered a clause in the TV Academy’s contract giving them the right to move out if the Oscars ever were to move in. TV Academy officials privately indicated to me that they wouldn’t have bolted, feeling that the seven months between the Emmys and Oscars was enough time not to create a scheduling or identity crisis.
For CIM this deal was a big relief because without their star tenant the theatre would have been in deep trouble financially and image-wise. For Dolby it keeps the brand relevant and atop the industry. And for the Academy this is a major win as it removes the uncertainty of where the show will be based. Now it’s back where it belongs right across the street from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where the very first Oscar ceremony took place on May 16, 1929. And now the Oscars have a permanent home back in the old neighborhood until at least 2034.