Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, both accomplished movie producers, realize their new gig as the just-announced producing team of the 89th annual Academy Awards is going to be something neither has done before on this scale. “This is sort of baptism by fire, but there are no real live TV shows opportunities for film producers beside sporting events, awards or concerts. This is the best one — but it is definitely baptism by fire,” De Luca said, laughing, when I spoke to him and Todd today about their plans and hopes for this year’s Oscar show.
It is no shotgun marriage, as some Oscar producer pairings have been in the past — including last year’s team of Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. De Luca and Todd actually have worked together in this sector, producing the 2016 Producers Guild Awards.
“The PGA show was live, although not televised, but it was a live show so it was a good warm-up for us in learning about that, and making a show run on time as well as where to spend the extra time on glamour or entertainment,” said Todd, who may also have a movie in the mix this year with next month’s release of Ben Affleck’s Live By Night, which Warner Bros is campaigning. Of course, De Luca is no stranger to that aspect of the Oscars, having been nominated three times for Best Picture with The Social Network, Moneyball and Captain Phillips.
There has been much speculation in the trades and elsewhere about the seeming delay in setting producers, and by extension a host, for this year’s big show which airs February 26 on ABC. De Luca actually told me well over a year ago that he and Todd would eventually be interested in producing the Oscar show, and so it has come to be.
“I think we told just about everybody that we wanted to do it,” he laughed, adding that this year they had their sights set on it early. “We started thinking about it really after last year’s PGA awards. The Academy and ABC have their process and they knew we were interested, so we kind of waited to get the call. We interviewed and it worked out for us.”
It is known that ABC asked for and apparently received more input into the show with their new contract with the Academy, and ABC’s Ben Sherwood has already publicly thrown support for his late-night star Jimmy Kimmel to host. But De Luca says they have gotten no indication of any pressure from the network, only good vibes. “We had a wonderful meeting with Ben Sherwood and (ABC president) Channing Dungey the other day,” he said. “But it is in early stages. They seem like great partners, so supportive, and really seem to have a great relationship with the Academy. We are all in this together. It is beginning days but we are looking forward to the collaboration with ABC.”
As for a host, Kimmel (who just did the Emmys for ABC) aside, there is no shortage of names and we hear ABC wants a major one. The new producers are just jumping into it now but offered no names or made no specific comment when I brought up Kimmel. “We have our long list and are throwing every name on it and will work down from there,” Todd said. “It is an all-inclusive list right now where any idea is a good idea. We know we have to work quickly.”
“I am older than Jen — I grew up with Johnny Carson,” De Luca said, offering praise for that iconic Oscar show host who did it from 1979-1984. “I am not so old that I remember Bob Hope. I loved the Billy Crystal years. I love when Steve Martin did it. I love Ellen. We are definitely going to try and find a funny person, a comic actor or a comedian. Someone who can riff and improv and roll with the situations. It should be the person you want to invite into your living room and spend a few hours with, someone who could make you laugh. I think that is so important for a joyous show.
I threw out the idea of teaming Steve Martin with his buddy and sometimes partner, Martin Short as I do every year. “Who could argue that?” said De Luca. It is likely the Academy and ABC may also be looking to hit a younger and more diverse demo, so I am sure you can probably expect names like Kevin Hart to be on that long list. Tom Hanks, an Academy governor, has often been mentioned, but it has never happened. He also is not a comedian, which is what De Luca seems to want.
As for the show itself, the pair said they want to merge a movie-centric approach with entertainment. “We are going to combine them both,” said De Luca. “Movies have to be front and center. It is not the Tony Awards, but I think there is a place for musical numbers that tie into the theme of the evening, and obviously a lot will be dictated by what the nominated songs will be, but it’s about movies and that is what we are putting front and center.” Todd adds they have only talked so far in broad strokes about themes and ideas in that regard.
As for the elephant in the room, that being diversity and the #OscarsSoWhite protests that have rocked the Academy the past couple of years, how the show will be affected by the Academy’s nominees this year is not in the producers hands — but they are clearly aware of it. And they are both voters.
“It concerns me on a life level,” De Luca said. “Everything should reflect the country as it is, the world as it is. Recognizing diversity in our lives and the world really has to start with people making certain movies and TV shows. The Oscars or the Emmys or any of these awards shows are after the fact. I thought it was great the Academy changed its membership rules, and the membership is starting to look more diverse, but I think the issue of entertainment that absolutely reflects the world in which we live is bigger than one year and one Oscar telecast. It is bigger than individual nominees. It is how we tell stories, and I think now we are on a track where at least the conversation is happening. We need to encourage, by all ways and means that are at our disposal, diversity in storytelling, and then the nominations will take care of themselves.”
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