Oscar Host?

ABC just began rolling out commercial spots for the 91st annual Academy Awards, which airs on February 24, but for the first time in a long while those ads had not a single mention of a host, traditionally a known fact in most similar Oscar TV spots in recent years. But then again, this coming Oscar show does not have a host after the two-day reign of comedian Kevin Hart came crashing down exactly one month ago after some of his offensive long-ago Twitter remarks came to light.

Since then, Academy officials and their chosen producers this time around — Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss (who also is directing again) — have offered radio silence on who just might host, even not officially acknowledging that Hart dropped out. As far as I can tell, Gigliotti hasn’t given a single interview regarding her plans or ideas for the show, and Weiss has also been mostly AWOL with the press since proposing to his girlfriend on live TV after winning an Emmy for directing last year’s Academy Awards.

This kind of secrecy surrounding the crown jewel of awards shows was a strategy last used in 2009, when Hugh Jackman hosted the innovative and rather thrilling Oscar telecast produced by Bill Condon and Laurence Mark. Their thought was that the show would have a certain air of mystery and freshness if every element was kept secret — one reason they didn’t even dribble out press releases of about presenters, a common practice before and since. Not by design, that seems to be the way the 91st Oscars is heading less than two months before the big show.

AMPAS

In my latest episode of The Actor’s Side, I asked Jackman about hosting the Oscars and if he would do it again. He didn’t skip a beat before saying “yes,” and mentioned he had been asked a couple of times since but had scheduling conflicts. Could he turn up again, albeit with a reduced workload as one of several hosts this year? We can speculate all we want and so let’s speculate.

Deadline is hearing from (highly) reliable sources that since no one appears to want to take on the mantle of Oscar host in 2019, particularly after the Hart debacle, that calls have gone out to create a lineup of multiple hosts — such as a quartet of major names, or even more — who wouldn’t even necessarily be called hosts. Of course, this is indeed all speculation at this point since there is radio silence coming from 8984 Wilshire Boulevard as of this writing.

Except for forays into having two hosts — such as the ill-fated pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway (2011) or a more palatable teaming of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin (2010) — we have had the single-host concept, usually a comedian, since Billy Crystal took over for four years in a row in 1990 (and returned another four times). The idea of groups, though, is nothing new.

1969 Oscars
YouTube

Before the 1990s there were several Oscar outings with multiple hosts. In fact, between 1969-1971 there were three consecutive shows in which the number of those officially running the affair kept ballooning in size — from 10 “friends of Oscar” in 1969 to 16 so-called “hosts” in 1970, to a whopping 33 (!) in 1971. However you label it, it was an inventive switch, with that 1969 show produced by Broadway master Gower Champion still considered one of the best Oscar shows since they began being televised in 1953 (and it came in at 2 hours and 33 minutes!).

After those three broadcasts, the show employed a four-host concept for the next five years before perennial master of ceremonies Bob Hope returned as sole M.C. for Oscar’s 50th anniversary in 1978, and Johnny Carson proved the value of a truly brilliant single host for the following five years. One last stab at a show without the concept of one or the rare pair of hosts was tried in the infamous 1989 show produced by Allan Carr (yes. the one with Rob Lowe and Snow White together for the first — and last — time). That disaster officially ended the practice of multiple hosts and friends of Oscar for three decades.

Now on the 30th anniversary of that debacle is it time to try it again, except get it right? AMPAS president John Bailey certainly seemed amenable to the idea when we talked at an Academy event in Toronto in early September. In fact, he seemed to favor it when I wanted to know which person might host. “Who says it can’t be more than one?” he asked, then explained that the idea of several hosts has been used successfully in the past. Since Bailey and the Academy are on record as promising a firm three-hour show this year, losing the single-host concept would likely help pick up valuable time. I was actually surprised when instead of that idea they went the more traditional route with Hart. Back to the drawing board, as they say.

AMPAS

Hosting a massive show like the Oscars, with so many moving parts and so many ways to go wrong (some less telegenic categories are being pre-taped and rolled into the show for the first time this year), is a tough gig that requires special skills. Tom Hanks, a former AMPAS governor, has often been mentioned, but it is a lot of work for someone like him who keeps a full schedule. The idea of passing around the responsibilities is intriguing and would make it easier to draft top stars — a must for the Oscar telecast, which has experienced declining ratings in recent years.

Ironically, so much of the talk is about a host for the Oscars, when it in fact should be all about the movies.  With this year’s 91st edition promising more studio mega-hit Best Picture possibilities along the likes of Black Panther, A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Quiet Place and so on, who needs a host anyway? There is ratings gold in them thar movies that people actually care about, and that is a much more valuable commodity if you compare ratings for the years that Titanic and Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King swept as opposed to more indie-centric years.

Also, without a formal host the Academy doesn’t have to feel “pressured” into announcing one anytime soon, as multiple hosts give them time to reveal details much later down the line than next Monday, when AMPAS will officially set a record for the longest wait for an announcement of who will walk on that stage at the beginning of Oscar night — its coincidentally also the day Oscar nomination voting begins.  In some ways it could be a blessing in disguise with less time to let Internet trolls rake poor Oscar over the coals no matter which way they decide to go. Stay tuned.