Hawk Koch has not even been President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a month yet but he’s already got his producers lined up for the Oscars – no small feat considering the awkward attempt to put a producer and even a host in place (widely reported to be Lorne Michaels and Jimmy Fallon) before he even got elected on July 31st. Koch always told me, on the record and off, that as far as he was concerned his first priority was to get a producer(s) hired and none of the media speculation about who it would be or how it was being done was going to affect that goal. He just forged ahead. And he said it was always going to be his decision, at least from the moment he got elected. And as he told me when we spoke Thursday evening that’s exactly how it has turned out with yesterday’s well-received announcement of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron as this year’s Oscarcast producers.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time but I have only been on the job for three weeks or so”, he said. “But about a week and a half ago it suddenly hit me at 2 AM in the morning. Neil and Craig! They’ve done movies, Broadway, TV, they have great taste and they’d be great to work with. They are real producers”.
The latter point is particularly important to Koch who, in order to do the one term Academy gig, has taken a leave of absence from his post as Co-President of the Producers Guild. So after his brainstorm he called a mutual friend and ran the idea past him, getting a very enthusiastic agreement that this was the perfect team for the job. When he called Zadan to inquire as to whether they might be interested in producing the Oscars if such a role was offered he says Zadan didn’t hesitate a moment and responded ‘yes’ immediately . “That really surprised me since usually it takes a lot longer to get your choice to agree or they are too busy, not this time though. Craig and Neil are busy but Craig said producing the Oscars was at the very top of their own bucket list,” (the pair produced Rob Reiner’s movie The Bucket List).
Although both Koch and Zadan and Meron confirmed they had never been asked their names often came up in the annual guessing game of who would produce the Oscars. And in nabbing this duo Koch has avoided creating a shotgun marriage of Oscar producers as has been the case in the last few years. This is a team that has worked together for nearly 40 years and can “finish each other’s sentences” as Meron explained in a conference call with Deadline and the pair yesterday. Another plus Zadan says is that he goes back a long way with Koch. “I was a Vice-President with United Artists in 1979 and was one of the executives who oversaw The Idolmaker (which was produced by Koch and Gene Kirkwood).”
And Koch really likes their breadth of experience (which after the Oscars is also going to include producing a live tv production of The Sound Of Music for NBC). “It makes sense. You want people who understand theatre, even though people say what plays well on stage doesn’t necessarily translate to television. But they’ve obviously done both and know how to make it work”, says Koch adding that the trio has already tossed around a “billion ideas” and since the three of them are all producers it is going to be fun. He emphasizes though that they will be the producers of the show, not him. And yes, there has been talk of a host which will obviously intensify now, but he wouldn’t drop any hints except to say they will be looking in a lot of different areas. He has high hopes they will also be able to attract a strong celebrity roster of top stars to present, not always an easy task even if it is the Oscars. “They are well-liked in celebrity circles and they have a real good rolodex”, Koch says.
As for any significant changes in the numbers of categories those presenters get to present Koch is firm in saying any reduction in the 24 categories is “not gonna happen”. But he does have some specific new ideas in speeding up the presentations. “There are ways we are going to explore”, he says but didn’t offer specifics. He also noted it is too early to determine if the nominated songs would be performed on the show. There were only two nominees last year and, despite complaints, a decision was made just to show clips instead of the usual tradition of having them performed live by the original artists.
One area in which he does want to see a significant ramping-up is how the show is promoted, particularly in the use of social media and online opportunities. “Our audience will know a lot more about our nominees than ever before. We want them to get up close and personal and give people knowledge of who they are and how they got there. It will add a rooting factor”, he says. There will also be more time in 2013 to get to know those nominees as the Academy has moved the nominations announcement to January 15 (10 days earlier than last year), just two days after the Golden Globes. “We wanted more time between the nominations and the show and this move will give us that”, he said. The Academy is known to be exploring the possibility of revealing the nominations in a separate prime time show (as the Grammys now do) instead of the traditional 5:30AM west coast time in order to hit the morning shows. Whether that would be a possibility for this year is not clear but it wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. When NBC had the show in the 50’s they tried a primetime nominations special a couple of times and even had celebrities around a piano singing the Best Song nominees as they were announced.
So even though we haven’t even gotten past the Emmys yet, the Oscars are already upon us. “We’re starting now”, says Koch. “We have to. This is a giant show”.