Later today, the first Tuesday in August, the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will meet to install newly elected governors and reorganize its officers, pretty much as usual.
As usual, the governors will almost certainly elect casting director David Rubin, the Academy’s current president, to another term. Re-election of presidents who aren’t termed out is almost automatic.
Also as usual, the group will probably choose a financially competent executive or producer to replace Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, who is leaving the board, as treasurer. My money is on Participant’s David Linde, who will inherit the headaches that come with a large institution that has been wrestling for several years with growing debt, increased expenses and flat-to-declining income.
So here’s a question: Once having done the expected, will this new board and its officers turn to confront some of the less-expected challenges that have risen since the audience for the Academy’s bread-and-butter Oscar show collapsed to an all-time low of 10.4 million in April?
To date, the film Academy has publicly behaved as if nothing really changed when viewers for the ABC Oscar broadcast fell 55%, from an already low 23.6 million the year before. You know, it’s Covid, what can you do?
Privately, some governors even chuckled when NBC pulled the plug, at least for a while, on the competing Golden Globes. They didn’t view it as a set-back for the awards business in general. Rather, they saw a slick move by the network to side-step controversy and shelve an expensive show whose audience was evaporating even faster than that for the Oscars.
As usual, of course, the Academy has juggled dates a bit. It set next year’s Oscar show for March 27, roughly halfway between last year’s very late April 25 broadcast and the mid-to-late February dates of prior years.
But rules for the upcoming 94th Oscars, announced in June, are virtually identical to the streaming-friendly protocols used for the disastrous 93rd.
In an early July ritual, the Academy invited 395 prospective new members, returning to an invitation level that was usual before an ongoing inclusion drive. No real change there–and the diversity campaign, begun in 2015, is no answer to the very different problems of 2021.
As for fiscal issues, who can say? Queried for information about finances—did awards revenue fall when the audience disappeared?—the Academy and ABC have kept mum. As usual, members, bondholders and the curious public will have to wait for an audited financial report around Christmas.
Meanwhile, the Academy Museum, which has its own board but is financially backed by the Academy, is proceeding with plans for a Rolex-sponsored opening gala on September 25, even as mask mandates return, Covid hospitalizations here and elsewhere rise, Sony Pictures delays its return-to-work plan until possibly October, and Clifford, the big red movie dog from Paramount, sniffs the air and scratches his September release date.
(Rolex will also sponsor the January 15 Governors Awards, at which honorary statuettes will go, as usual, to a lineup of film veterans, Samuel L. Jackson, Elaine May, Liv Ullman and Danny Glover.)
In truth, the hazards facing Hollywood’s premier nonprofit actually seem larger this year than last. The reopened box office is, at best, static. The audience for event television is in the tank—witness the Olympics. Confusion has trumped confidence when it comes to moviegoing, lockdowns and public health policy. Inflation is gnawing on the Academy’s nest egg (and yours and mine, too).
In all, this doesn’t seem a time for business as usual. Or for whistling past the graveyard, as the case may be.
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