Some people were surprised when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited 2013 Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron back to run the 2014 telecast. After all, that was the Seth MacFarlane-hosted show that caused controversy (“We Saw Your Boobs,” anyone?). You have to wonder what he might have done with 12 Years A Slave or The Wolf Of Wall Street this year! The reviews, though, were mixed to negative (I actually liked the attitude MacFarlane brought — different), with critics saying the show had too many musical segments and a James Bond tribute that, other than Shirley Bassey’s rendition of “Goldfinger,” fell flat. But it scored well in the ratings and actually added a lot of previously missing young males to the typically female-driven viewing demographic. Zadan and Meron return this year in triumph after single-handedly reviving the live Broadway musical The Sound Of Music with their smash-hit version that starred Carrie Underwood and aired on NBC in December. Critics balked at that, too, but who’s laughing now? (Peter Pan is the next live musical they will do for NBC). Perhaps in a bid for more universal appeal, the producers are bringing back past Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres for what promises to be a much safer, more female-friendly telecast. Ellen is, well, Ellen, and very likable, so you know what you’re getting. The ABC promos just reinforce that.
With a salute to real-life, fictional and animated movie heroes, the producers have come upon a theme this year that promises to be what they call “entertaining and emotional.” At this year’s Oscar nominees lunch, Zadan told me he is happy with how the show is going so far, but the pair is keeping many details close to the vest, other than some already-announced best song performances from Pharrell Williams, Idina Menzel, Karen O and U2 (perhaps brokered when they were deep in conversation with song nominee Bono at that same lunch). Bette Midler also is going to perform for the first time on an Oscarcast and will make what the producers are terming “an especially moving evening”. Hmmmm. She reached out after the announcement to fans on Twitter asking for song suggestions, but the line about “moving evening” sounds to me like she will be doing something more in concert with the In Memoriam segment than “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. OK, so “Wind Beneath My Wings,” anyone? (keep in mind I correctly guessed Barbra Streisand singing “The Way We Were” last year after a similar cryptic announcement from Zadan and Meron). The producers also have announced a Pink performance for a “highly anticipated moment”. Double hmmmm. She was one of the highlights, no question , at the Grammys last month with her musical acrobatic act with Cirque du Soleil, so maybe she’ll be flying over the Oscar audience too?
In terms of presenters, all four acting winners from last year (Daniel Day Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Christoph Waltz, Anne Hathaway) will be handing Oscars to the acting winners this year as per Academy tradition. The Academy also announced the full list of presenters in one big press release at the crack of dawn Monday. And it is nice to see old Hollywood not completely forgotten by the presence of legends like Kim Novak and Sidney Poitier on the roster. Zadan and Meron said, “We sought to include a tremendous diversity of stars to represent not only this year’s nominees, but the legacy of the motion picture business as well”. The “diversity” includes at least nine African-American stars including Poitier. After this year’s nominees luncheon class photo appeared, there was some media sniping about the overwhelming preponderance of white faces, especially in a year that sported so many great films driven by black talent. I think it would be a nice touch to give 87-year old Poitier a prime spot, maybe Best Picture, as acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of his historic 1964 Best Actor win. Can you imagine that moment if he were to present to 12 Years A Slave? The Oscars need moments like that. As for the show overall, Meron offered only this at the nominees lunch: “We are actually thrilled to be producing the show for a second year in a row, and again [the Academy] has provided an incredible group of films with which to work. We are thrilled to have Ellen as our host because she is going to be bringing her specific brand of comedy with her, which we all love.” As for the rest, tune in March 2 on ABC.
A version of this article first appeared in AwardsLine.