Even though we are now exactly one month away from the Primetime Emmys, rampant speculation is already turning to that other iconic awards show, the 88th annual Oscars on February 28, 2016. Who is going to produce? Who is going to host? Media is already trying to guess although as far as I can tell from everything we have been able to discern, an announcement isn’t imminent. But names are being tossed around. Academy officials led by President Cheryl Boone Isaacs (just re-elected to a third term last month) and CEO Dawn Hudson are discussing possibilities for producers of the new Oscarcast. This after Craig Zadan and Neil Meron bowed out after three straight years.
Even more urgent on the Academy’s plate is the November 14 Governors Awards. The Board Of Governors will meet Tuesday to pick this year’s chosen few for Honorary Oscars, held as a separate event that has become a key must-be-seen-there Oscar-season campaign stop. They need a producer for that show as well. Once the honorees are informed, a producer will have to start work almost immediately to get that non-televised show on the road.
Although Zadan and Meron had plenty of highlights, some innovations, and ratings increases (for the first two years at least ) of their recent tenure, the 2015 Neil Patrick Harris-hosted edition was not critically well-received. It lost audience from their previous shows, even though it has since been nominated for eight Emmys this year including Outstanding Special Class Program. Despite that shout-out from the Television Academy, some members of the Motion Picture Academy’s Board were quite vocal about their disappointment with the show. Particularly with a Birdman bit in which Harris took the stage in his tighty whities. You could just hear Middle America asking, “Why is the Oscar host standing there in his underpants?”
They are looking for a producer with different ideas in taking Oscar show forward. More emphasis on film segments, and less on musical interludes, was one emphasis that has been made clear to me. It’s always a tough gig, but as Zadan and Meron and other past producers can tell you, no matter what you do you are always going to be somebody’s target. Past producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, who produced the 81st Oscars, have both told me they do want to return someday and try it again — most certainly with Hugh Jackman if he’s up for an encore as host. Their names have been floated often, but it can’t happen this time because Condon is in London directing Beauty And The Beast for Disney. Brian Grazer, who (with current Emmycast producer Don Mischer) bailed out the Oscar show a few years back when Brett Ratner was forced to bow out, often finds his name floated, but he has a big Christmas movie to launch in In The Heart Of The Sea. Among the other names floated are Playtone’s Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. Hanks is an Actors Governor and he’s always courted for hosting duties but has never said yes. He and Goetzman do Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and other live broadcasts, to go with their Emmy-winning WWII series, so they certainly could handle this. But Hanks is in the Best Actor mix for October’s Bridge Of Spies and it doesn’t look like this is their year, either. If Goetzman and Hanks said yes, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the latter turning to best friends Steve Martin and Martin Short to host. They have been appearing in a duo act this summer, and would be an inspired choice to front the show (Martin has done it a few times in the past). It would be just what the Oscars need. Did you see Short kill at Martin’s AFI tribute in June?
Bridge Of Spies director Steven Spielberg has long been a dream producer, but his schedule also would make that impossible. We have heard that last year’s Governors Awards producer Reginald Hudlin is a personal favorite of Boone Issacs, but insiders say he doesn’t seem to be in the hunt right now. The other names to keep in mind for the future are Fifty Shades Of Grey producer Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd, but they can’t do it this year because they’ve committed to produce the PGA Awards show. Producer Michael Shamberg’s name has come up this time too. Joel Gallen, a television producer with loads of live TV experience, is another name we have heard floated, perhaps being teamed with a film producer. Gallen was executive producer of last year’s Independent Spirit Awards and in the past has done several awards shows for MTV, Comedy Central roasts, etc. It might not be lost on the Academy that the Birdman spoof on the Indie Spirits, airing the day before the Oscars, was far superior to the Harris debacle using basically the same material.
The late Gil Cates produced the show a record 14 times. In Zadan and Meron, the Academy had consistency in producers who learned to plan and execute such a massive enterprise. Everybody seems to want to do the job at least once, but past producers will tell you it is a mixed blessing. It is incredibly time consuming and difficult, but you get your phone calls returned faster than ever. Given the regimented structure of the Oscarcast, it is never going to be as fast and loose as the Golden Globes, which has enjoyed the irreverence of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for the past three years, and Ricky Gervais before that. Oscar, with its insistence on presenting all 24 categories during the show — with only acting, picture, director, screenplay being those that viewers all over the planet care about — is much more stiff by comparison. But looking at the field, from Star Wars to The Revenant, The Hateful Eight on down, this could be a big year for Oscar movies that are seen by vast worldwide audiences. It will be a record year for the movie business globally, so this might be a good year to take the plunge. Consider that, potential producers.
As for speculation on who the board might choose Tuesday evening for those coveted Honorary Oscars, it is always a crap shoot. Basically any member of the board can make a suggestion, prepare some background papers, and make the pitch in person. Sometimes an advocate helps, as was the case when Kathryn Bigelow pushed Angelina Jolie for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. How about Sean Penn for that one this year, Governors? Sure, he can come off gruff, but he has been relentless in his support for Haiti after that devastating earthquake. The list of actors deserving an Honorary Oscar rarely changes year to year, but it has gotten smaller since the board answered the prayers of many by awarding Maureen O’Hara and Angela Lansbury. Still let’s think about Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, Gena Rowlands, Max Von Sydow, Albert Finney, Donald Sutherland, Kim Novak, Catherine Deneuve and Jeanne Moreau. The Academy waited too long for another hopeful, James Garner, who died last year. And in the year of the new Star Wars , how about Harrison Ford?
As for worthy directors, how about that cantankerous but brilliant Brit Mike Leigh, or Phil Kaufman? The board seems reluctant to give out the Thalberg honor often (Francis Ford Coppola was the last to receive it in 2010) and it has only been doled out 39 times. But you always hear the same names floated including Grazer, Alan Ladd Jr, the Weinsteins, Scott Rudin, Arthur Cohn.
Beginning with Tuesday’s board meeting expect all of this, now just idle speculation, to seriously pick up steam as Oscar season officially begins.