An anonymously sourced Hollywood Reporter story Wednesday headlined “Also-ran Academy Host?” in their print edition gossip column, as well as an expanded online version blatantly headlining “Neil Patrick Harris Wasn’t Academy’s First Choice To Host The Oscars,” has been flatly denied by Oscar show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.
The story, credited in the online version to writer Seth Abramovich, claims 2014 host Ellen DeGeneres was “begged” by the producers to host again but refused the offer. The piece then said Chris Rock, who shares DeGeneres’ ICM Partners agent Eddy Yablans, was “next on the wish list” but a deal “failed to materialize.” The story also said the producers even approached Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who also said ‘no.’ ” THR then says that only after these rejections was Harris — a four-time Emmy winner as Tony host and two-time Emmy host — offered the gig.
Reliable sources with knowledge of the 2015 Oscar host discussions say although names like Louis-Dreyfus may have been floated in” initial” discussions, no offers were ever made, and they never spoke to Rock or made an offer to him.
In a statement to Deadline, Zadan and Meron, now producing their third consecutive Academy Awards show, diplomatically but clearly attack the report as uninformed as to how the process of choosing a host is conducted. “After every Oscar show there is always a discussion as to who will host the next one. Many names are discussed and sometimes even floated without there being any formal offers. At times, these casual discussions take on a life of their own, and some are eager to break a story without knowing the facts. Neil Patrick Harris received the Academy’s formal offer. He is the perfect choice for the Oscars and will be the consummate host,” the pair said. In other words, the Academy made only one formal offer this year and that was to Harris.
It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that other names might have been discussed. That’s par for the course and it wouldn’t be surprising if one of them was DeGeneres, who generated strong ratings and lots of water-cooler talk with her now-infamous selfie photo and pizza delivery bit. But Zadan and Meron emphasize the offer went to Harris. Period. And certainly using the term “also-ran” is way off the truth of the matter, indicating it was a desperate choice. But rather than just ignore the story which can take on a life of its own on the Internet, it’s also not surprising that they would want to protect their new host against this kind of gossipy reporting, which goes on to suggest that ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel would be the better choice even though there is no evidence his name was ever floated.
In an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America last week, Harris said he had no idea he was up for the job. “I thought weirdly because I’d hosted other shows that that was a strike against me a little bit, because they had gone with people before, Seth McFarlane and stuff who were sort of new, but then with Ellen last year doing such a good job. The awards shows, you can’t really decide that you want to host them. They call you and ask you if you will. Even if you pitch yourself for it, it feels desperate so you just have to hope that the spotlight hits you,” he said, adding that he knows Meron and Zadan “very well and they asked me to do it.” Zadan and Meron also affirm “we have known Neil Patrick Harris his entire adult life.”
Another reason Harris thinks he may have gotten the job is that, in addition to those proven hosting abilities, he also has serious film cred this year with a supporting role in Oscar contender Gone Girl. A movie industry connection is more times than not a big plus when looking for a host. He was thrilled to be asked of course and even did a video in which he placed ‘Hosting The Oscars’ on his bucket list.
Hosting the Oscars can be a no-win job as you are always a target and it is the most high-profile gig of its kind, but I will bet Harris didn’t think the brickbats would start before he’s even got the first joke written.
The 87th Annual Academy Awards hosted by Harris air on ABC on Sunday, February 22.