As the wise heads of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deliberate their latest headache — the rapid demise of Kevin Hart as prospective Oscar host — here’s a heartfelt plea. Please, please give serious thought to the no-host option.
As noted two weeks ago, the host-free shows of 1969, 1970, and 1971 were actually pretty good. Granted, no-host 1989 — producer Allan Carr’s Snow White year — was a bust. But the earlier host-less ceremonies were short, entertaining, and widely viewed. You could do worse.
This year, eliminating the host would clean up a multitude of problems, all at once. For starters, the painful search for a trouble-free emcee could be over as early as this evening, if the Academy’s Board of Governors were to sign on during their regularly scheduled gathering. No intrusive vetting. No preemptive apologies. No diversity debate. No one tagged as an unfortunate stop-gap. No host.
True, Oscar producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, will have to work a little harder — maybe as hard as Gower Champion worked to make his host-free 1969 show a success. But they’re both troupers, and presumably up to the challenge.
Losing the host will do much to reduce the show’s political volatility, and might open the door to viewers who have been fleeing the barbed politics of past awards broadcasts in droves. Individual winners, presenters, or “Friends of the Oscar” — a term Champion used for the ensemble of super-stars who anchored his 1969 broadcast — will surely lob a partisan bomb here and there. But the nonexistent host will feel no pressure to signal virtue or establish his or her anti-Trump bona fides, thus pleasing half the audience and losing the rest.
With politics out of the way, the Academy will be free to reboot its approach, and, perhaps, get ratings out of the cellar. It’s not hard to imagine a film-centric theme. Something simple, but pointed, like, say: “Let’s get back to the movies.”
We’ll leave the actual wording to all those clever marketers at the studios and ABC. But a return-to-the-movies theme would draw a clear line between the Oscars and the encroaching Golden Globes, which are heavy with television awards, and likely to turn topical. After all, the Globes have two comics—Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh—in the anchor seats, and Adam McKay’s political satire Vice atop the nomination list.
Ditching the Oscar host will be an attention-getter. People get interested in the Academy when it somehow screws up. A favorite feature of the 2017 show was the last-minute mess, when La La Land briefly received a Best Picture Oscar that belonged to Moonlight. So why not play into the Kevin Hart screw-up? Eliminate the host, and more than a few lost viewers will tune in to see what happens.
What they will see, mercifully, is a shorter show. Under the Oscar format, as it has evolved in the last decade or so, producers are obliged to feature the host at least three times, at the beginning, middle and end of the ceremony. That has stretched the program toward four hours, beyond the endurance of many.
Without a host, nominated songs will almost inevitably move to the top of the show, clearing time in the middle for, of all things, the awards. (There might even be time to plug that long-suffering movie museum.)
As in the no-host shows of a half-century past, continuity will likely be carried by a group of movie stars. Believe it or not, they are entertaining, watchable people. If one or two get called out in advance for unseemly tweets or other violations, they are, to put it coldly, expendable. You can lose them without damaging the broadcast. And, come 2020, you can start looking again for the next Bob Hope.