EXCLUSIVE… UPDATED WITH MORE DETAILS: Tom Sherak now will go down in Oscars history as giving new definition to the word chutzpah. The outgoing president of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences tried to pull a fast one on the incoming president Hawk Koch who was just voted in Tuesday night. Choosing the producer and host of the Oscars is probably the most important job of the AMPAS president. Yet Sherak, despite knowing he himself was a lame duck, nevertheless broke protocol and tried to hire the 85th Academy Awards hosts for the February 24th, 2013, telecast which should be Koch’s responsibility. Sherak solicited TV and film producer Lorne Michaels and NBC Late Night host Jimmy Fallon. The choices were understandable because Fallon had done a good job hosting the Emmys in 2010, while Michaels is the longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live. On the other hand, the recent trend has been away from a TV host like Fallon and instead towards bonafide movie stars. Deadline learned that Sherak went to the Academy’s Board Of Governors on his own initiative and said, “If I can find a producer, would you be interested?” The Board said yes.
But insiders tell me they felt Sherak’s request was blatantly inappropriate. Hawk Koch, who still didn’t know if he’d be voted in as AMPAS president, was 1st VP and openly expressed reservations. Koch told colleagues Sherak shouldn’t be doing this with a mere matter of weeks before the elections and complained to Sherak about it. The two men agreed with the Academy’s COO Ric Robertson to set a deadline for locking in a producer on the Wednesday before the AMPAS president and officers elections the very next Tuesday.
Immediately, Disney/ABC which airs the Oscars objected to Sherak’s choices because Fallon competes with Jimmy Kimmel’s show and is the soon-to-be-successor to Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show. “When the idea came up of Fallon, we made it clear that we were not happy about that. It was ridiculous to think we would want to give him that big platform,” a Disney insider tells me. “We had no objection to Lorne.” Technically, Disney/ABC can’t tell the Academy what to do since AMPAS controls the Oscars telecast. But the objection was an obstacle to Sherak’s plans, and “he never got the deal done”, one of my sources says. Sherak’s search was called off within 6 days of the new AMPAS president’s election when he couldn’t meet the deadline. “Now the negotiations are dead,” I’m told. An Academy spokeswoman also is confirming that neither Fallon nor Michaels has been hired.
Related: Behind-The-Scenes Of Hawk Koch’s Academy Win
[UPDATE: Sherak later told the LA Times that the Academy’s Board of Governors gave him the authority 2 months ago to find a producer for the 2013 show. Sherak said he wasn’t able to complete a deal before his term was up. “I couldn’t meet that deadline, so I stopped all negotiations,” he said. The LA Times initially and erroneously reported that Fallon and Michaels are still in talks.] Sherak has been one of Hollywood’s most controversial Academy presidents because he ruled with an iron fist. He also caused one of the Oscars’ most embarrassing episodes when he hired Brett Ratner as the telecast producer — only to have the filmmaker resign in disgrace. Once Ratner left, Sherak’s choice for Oscars host Eddie Murphy also abandned ship. The Academy was left scrambling for a producer and host at the last minute, which was humiliating.
Anyway, the search for an Oscars producer and host is back to square one. No matter, because there’s plenty of time to pick them. A day after his election as the new Academy President, Hawk Koch told Deadline he wasn’t wasting any time getting into the job and was making his first priority the task of finding a producer and host for the 85th Oscar show. “Number one, right out the block, I have to get a producer and a host for the Oscars,” Koch told Deadline’s awards columnist Pete Hammond on Wednesday. “I want to find a way to get the younger film lovers to want to watch the Oscars. We have Oscar Sunday and we want to find a way to have everyone tune in like they do for Super Bowl Sunday. I want all the nominees on the night of the Oscars to feel like, ‘You know what? I have had the greatest time being nominated and if I win great but it is great to be nominated’. That’s number one.”
Back in 2010, the Oscar telecast producers announced that James Franco and Anne Hathaway would host the 83rd Academy Awards because they “personify the next generation of Hollywood icons — fresh, exciting and multi-talented.” It was a disaster even though both had very successfully hosted Saturday Night Live. The feeling was that these young actors could work in front of a live audience, which is why in the past the Academy has gone to so many stand-up comedians. The telecast’s failure was why old reliable Billy Crystal was chosen to host the following year.
The decision to host the Academy Awards is made by committee with a star’s agent, publicist, manager and even network/studio weighing all the pro and con options. Which is why the Academy has such a tough time finding good hosts every year because it can be such a career-altering decision. The list of viable candidates from the recent past can be counted on a single hand: Billy. Whoopi. Steve. Hugh. Always Tom Hanks even though he’s never said yes. Hugh again if only he wouldn’t keep saying no. Reps for actors, for instance, don’t want any joke-telling monologue. Not only are these one-liners usually understood only by the movie industry and leave TV viewers
bewildered. But, as Hugh Jackman’s camp told me when he hosted, “He didn’t work the last 20 years to suddenly be a stand-up comedian.”
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 (the second highest ratings in Oscarcast annals). In the 1990s and 2000s, there’s been Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Steve Martin as well as stand-up comedians and TV personalities like Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jon Stewart (whose emceeing resulted in the worst-rated Oscars since Nielsen started tracking them in 1974).
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, once told Deadline. “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.”