Well, the mystery of who gets the enviable — or unenviable — job of producing the 91st annual Academy Awards, airing February 24 on ABC, has been answered. And in choosing Oscar winner and multiple nominee Donna Gigliotti as producer and live TV and awards show veteran Glenn Weiss as “co-producer,” as well as director for the fourth consecutive year, Academy President John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson have assembled a strong team that should be well-equipped to deliver what is markedly going to be a bit of a re-invention. That includes an ironclad pledge to bring the show in at three hours and no more, as well as presenting some categories in a radically different way than in the past.
Bailey has indicated to me in the past that if he were re-elected for his second and final term (he was), he’d want to do a rather radical makeover of the show, which has experienced ratings erosion and endless competition from a stream of other awards shows crowding its space in the lead-up to the big event, almost making the Oscars seem anti-climactic in some ways. It still remains king of the hill, but the summit is increasingly in sight for some shows that don’t have to carry the baggage of presenting 24 categories on the air, very few of those in the marquee acting categories.
When I asked Bailey early last month at the Academy Museum’s Toronto Film Festival event how the search for an Oscar show producer(s) was going, he indicated then it would be very soon. And now, about six weeks later, it finally came to fruition. Several names were known to be lobbying for the job. I suggested at the time that with the Academy’s decision to pre-tape several categories (most likely crafts and shorts) during commercial breaks and air them later in the show for time considerations, it probably would be prudent to have a producer with extensive live television experience as this will add some complications to the past Oscar norms. He looked at me and said, “Exactly what I am thinking”.
Weiss, who has directed the three previous Oscar shows (including 2017’s notorious Best Picture envelope screwup) certainly qualifies for that portion of the job and his name has been rumored in the past weeks for the gig. And in adding the specifically titled “co-producer” to his directing credit this year, he’ll bring all of his considerable live TV experience including numerous Tony shows and the Emmys into play. He certainly shows he knows enough about live awards shows that as just a nominee, and later winner, he knew how to expertly hijack the Emmys with his marriage proposal, adding excitement into a show where there was very little.
In particular the Weiss-co-produced Tonys often has pre-taped some categories and inserted them in briefer form later in the live broadcast, so in some ways it will be secondhand to him and leave Gigliotti, who is a terrific and very capable movie producer, to deal with other aspects like making this an entertaining broadcast that will stem the tide of lower ratings the Academy Awards have experienced in recent years, and of course getting major names to participate. Now if the pair can just get lucky and have the likes of Black Panther and A Star Is Born nominated for Best Picture, there might also be a rooting interest on the part of film fans that could goose the ratings.
As for a host, Bailey indicated in Toronto that it might be further off, but when I asked he seemed to want to veer away from a sole comedian, a la ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and others who have hosted recently, and even suggested the idea of multiple hosts. I am sure this topic has come up in conversations with Gigliotti and Weiss, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. Multiple hosts have been tried several times in Oscar show history, including notably in 1969 when producer Gower Champion created the hosting group of 10 stars and dubbed them “Friends of Oscar.” I believe Bailey also is hoping the show steers clear of a lot of political conversation, something that comes natural for comics hosting the show. One comedian who he said might be in a category of her own, though, is two-time past host Ellen DeGeneres, whose shows drew respectable ratings and lots of social media action. Stay tuned on that.
Now if they could just lose the idea of the canned nominations announcement they have done for the past two years and make that feel live and exciting again, it would be a great first step to looking forward to the big night.