BREAKING… In selecting Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to produce the Oscarcast, AMPAS president Hawk Koch has found the rare team that has been producing together since the beginning of the reign of another Koch. These guys actually go back to the origins of the Ed Koch administration, when their first real job together was producing a celebration of the Gotham mayor’s inauguration for Public Theater impresario Joe Papp.
While Tom Sherak’s recent inexplicable attempt to shoehorn Lorne Michaels as Oscar producer and Jimmy Fallon as host before he stepped down as AMPAS president wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as last year’s Brett Ratner-Eddie Murphy debacle, it certainly didn’t get Koch’s Academy administration off to a good start.
In Zadan and Meron, Koch has chosen producers who by their own admission have worked so long they finish each other’s sentences. They understand the feature game that the Oscarcast celebrates, and they boast a Broadway resume that indicates they know how to produce a live show, and their long resume of landmark TV miniseries and movies shows they know how to produce for the small screen. And they really, really wanted the job.
Now it remains to be seen whether they can overcome the restrictive format of an Oscarcast that almost guarantees that all but the opening and the last half hour will be boring and familiar. Zadan and Meron feel they are up to that task of energizing the awards show in its 85th year.
They’ve never been offered the Oscar producing job before, they said, but it was widely known they wanted it and it didn’t take them long to say yes when Koch called them. The first order of business for them will be to choose a host. While the Fallon flyer would have upset ABC because Fallon hosts an NBC late night talk show, ABC recently minted its own guy, Jimmy Kimmel, in the 11:30 PM slot. That has put him in the conversation. Hugh Jackman, shooting The Wolverine, isn’t going to do it, according to his camp.
Zadan and Meron said they haven’t asked anyone yet, and they don’t know who they’ll court. “We have dealt with a lot of triple threat people who can sing, dance and do comedy,” Meron said. “It’s hard to say who we’ll choose, but we have kicked around some ideas.”
Even though the search for a host usually gets serious in about a month, Zadan indicated they might well make up their mind and have someone in place before then. “We’ve only had the job for about two days, but we intend to name a host imminently,” he said.
Getting the job is a dream, they said.”I wouldn’t say we have been lobbying, but rather we’ve been hoping for about a decade to get this job,” Meron told Deadline. “Maybe ten years ago we started saying, wouldn’t it be cool to get to produce the Oscars? What if we did this, or that? And then we would watch each show, and were relieved that nobody had done most of our ideas.”
They weren’t prepared to divulge what they’ll do to liven up the show, but they understand they have to work within a format that hasn’t really changed since long before the Koch Administration, with staid Academy stalwarts shooting down most suggestions to liven up the telecast by shortening technical categories, or revealing footage from upcoming films movie fans are eager to get a glimpse of, but which the Academy feels is unsavory shilling. The last attempt to inject new hosting blood came when James Franco and Anne Hathaway were paired, and the show was panned. Perennial host Billy Crystal returned last year after Eddie Murphy bailed, but he resurrected worn bits from years past and the broadcast seemed more yawn-worthy than anything because of Oscar’s rigid format.
“I understand the question, and we might have an answer when we start to formulate our show,” Zadan said. “Right now, it seems so subjective and hard to answer. I’ve sat at Oscar parties where someone said, I loved that segment, and then someone else said, oh, no, that was boring. You just can’t please anybody, and everybody has a different point of view on every aspect of the Oscars. So all you can do is do the version that you like, the one you believe in, the vision that you want to put out there. And hope that people share your vision. That is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do our version of the Oscars, and hope that people like what we had in mind.”
Both producers said that a major reason they’ve managed to work together for around 40 years is because they’ve moved so seamlessly between films, TV and theater. Meron said they met while he was a student at Brooklyn College who organized lectures and booked Zadan after he’d written the Stephen Sondheim book Sondheim And Company. They then began booking acts in the Soho cabaret The Ballroom, catching the attention of Papp and getting a job with him. They officially became producing partners in 1997.
On the feature front, they didn’t wind up with Best Picture Oscars for Chicago because they were executive producers, but Zadan and Meron ran the production from the set for director Rob Marshall. They produced the Adam Shankman-directed hit musical Hairspray and such films as the Rob Reiner-directed The Bucket List. Their focus in recent years has switched to television, and they have been behind such landmark telepics and miniseries as Annie (which Marshall directed), Gypsy with Bette Midler, Cinderella with Whitney Houston, and they most recently have focused on the NBC series Smash. Their Broadway productions include the revival of Promises, Promises with Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying with Daniel Radcliffe.
Asked how they’ve managed to stay together so long when most partnerships decay, Zadan said: “The diversity of the work makes us sane. So when we do a feature film, instead of going right into another, we may do a TV series. And then a TV movie or miniseries. Then we go and do a Broadway show. And then we come back and do another feature. They are all different muscles that you have to use.”
Said Meron: “The good thing is, we love all the projects. We could be a lot richer if we just took jobs, but we have not done that.”
Full Disclosure: Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were executive producers along with Mel Gibson of the ABC telepic that was based on Fleming’s book From Amalgamated Morons To American Icons: The Three Stooges.