UPDATE, 12:12 PM: After an initial denial, Deadline can now confirm that Seth MacFarlane did indeed get a call about returning as host of next year’s 86th Annual Academy Awards but has not given an answer yet. The big problem for MacFarlane, we are told by highly reliable sources, is his already full plate with a new Western comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West, going into production soon as well as initial work on Universal’s sequel to Ted, which has amassed a worldwide gross of over half a billion dollars and is obviously a priority for the studio.
Despite saying after this year’s Oscars that he wouldn’t consider coming back, MacFarlane is mulling the offer but at this point isn’t sure he has the time to do it. For the 85th Oscar show, he was closely involved for four months, and that is a big-time commitment. The Academy, returning producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and MacFarlane’s PR reps aren’t commenting so far, and neither is Academy president Hawk Koch.
MacFarlane’s comic Western film is being produced by the Ted team of Media Rights Capital and producers Scott Stuber and Jason Clark. MacFarlane, who directs, co-writes with Ted and Family Guy colleagues Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, also stars as a bumbling sheep farmer in the comedy said to be in the vein of Blazing Saddles. Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Giovanni Ribisi co-star.
PREVIOUSLY, SATURDAY PM: Craig Zadan and Neil Meron aren’t talking yet (an Academy spokesperson said they are too busy at the moment producing their History Channel production of Bonnie And Clyde). But after the surprise announcement this week that they would be returning to produce the 2014 Oscar show, gossip blogs like HuffPo and others started spreading the obvious rumor that their handpicked — and controversial — 2013 Oscar host Seth MacFarlane already has been asked to do the gig again next year. Not true at all, Deadline has learned from MacFarlane’s reps. And shortly after the 85th Oscar show was over MacFarlane himself swore off any ambition to do the show again next year – or ever (of course never say ever). So with the false rumors out of the way let’s discuss what is true about the Academy’s Zadan/Meron play this week.
Even as much of the industry was in Las Vegas at CinemaCon for the past few days (including myself) seeing snippets of films still in production that could possibly turn up as Oscar contenders, the normally rigid Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences surprised us all by announcing 2013 show producers Zadan and Meron would be returning to produce the 2014 show as well, 11 months from now. Normally this is the first duty of an Academy President to choose after elections are held in August, and since current one-term President Hawk Koch will not be that person, it was quite unexpected to see him delivering this news in April, just a month and a half after the last show and before a new President would have any say in the matter, something Nikki specifically expressed shock at in her story on Tuesday.
After talking to numerous Academy insiders and board members this week who were directly involved in the process that led to this early bird choice, the word that comes up over and over is “continuity”. Other awards shows such as the Tonys, Grammys and even Emmys tend to go back to the same producers year after year, but as one former Academy President told me the Oscar show producing chores have lately been done “trial by fire”. Since the late Gil Cates produced his 14th and final Oscarcast in 2008, there has been a new team of producers every single year. The Board, which I am told was very much behind this decision, agreed that “continuity”, the kind they had in the Cates era, is important. That’s another reason the Academy has already announced show dates for both 2014 and even 2015 quelling any speculation the Oscars would move any earlier than the last Sunday in February (due to the Winter Olympics the 2014 show will be a week later on March 2).
It also doesn’t hurt that ratings (as they were for most movie-oriented awards shows this year) were up under Zadan/Meron’s watch, particularly among young men and the coveted 18-34 demo which was up 20%. The Academy has been very concerned about drawing a younger audience, and with MacFarlane as host the show finally trended in that direction. When I interviewed the producing pair the week of the 85th Oscar show they specifically pointed to that as one of their goals and predicted, correctly as it turns out, that MacFarlane’s presence would bring his young male fans to the show.
Of course there was controversy about the content of the show itself , both inside and outside of the Academy , particularly a musical number called We Saw Your Boobs which some, who didn’t see the humor in the satirical song, found offensive. There are also others who felt the producers were a bit self-serving such as including their own movie Chicago in a tribute to movie musicals of the past decade. But I am told, though it wasn’t completely unanimous (there were a few vocal dissenters during the discussion) , the overall Board Of Governors put their stamp of approval on bringing back the producing pair after the Academy’s show review committee gave their thumbs up, and Zadan and Meron made their post-show report to the Board (something every producer does each year). This led the way for Koch and CEO Dawn Hudson to break with a decades-long tradition and remove the question of who produces next year’s Oscar show, even before the Emmys have announced who will produce their September 22nd show.
There has been speculation from naysayers (and in comments on Deadline) that perhaps the new Academy President could come in and overturn the decision in August, but stop smoking the crackpipe. It ain’t gonna happen. Again I am told the Board gave a strong endorsement to this decision and they will be the body voting for the next President. The most likely candidates at this point are said to be First Academy VP Cheryl Boone Issacs and Treasurer Rob Friedman and I guarantee neither one is going to rock the boat. I am told Friedman was even head of the show review committee that made its recommendation on this matter. It actually is probably a plus for a new President not to have to spend their first few weeks or months in office trying to convince someone to take on the arduous, and sometimes thankless, task of producing the high profile (and often mercilessly criticized) Oscar show. Like it or not the Wizards of Oscars has spoken.
One thing supporters of the Zadan/Meron style point to is that they are producers with a strong sense of what they want to do and how to produce a show. On nomination day when I interviewed them I asked if, now that they had the list of nominees, would they really start figuring out how the telecast would go. Both seemed surprised because in fact they had already mapped the entire telecast out months earlier. Basically what got nominated was just a small detail. Expect them to have this thing figured out again even before some 2013 contenders finish principal photography.