Oscarcast the winner this year

It's full-steam ahead as writers, advertisers gear up

With the threat of picketing writers having faded, Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and producer Gil Cates are now busily burnishing their upcoming Oscar telecast, promising a bright and starry night.

Host Jon Stewart is expected to arrive Saturday in Hollywood, bringing his writing team with him for an intensive week of Oscar prep. The Academy also has engaged veteran Oscar scribes Hal Kanter, Buz Kohan, Jon Macks and Bruce Vilanch.

"We are now full-steam ahead," Ganis said Thursday at a news conference at Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills, where he unveiled a list of presenters on board for the 80th Annual Academy Awards broadcast, set for Feb. 24.

"The writers are writing furiously or furiously writing," he added. Cates said no writing had been done while the strike was in effect. "We are behind, but we will catch up," he said. "Instead of writing eight hours a day, they are writing 12-13 hours a day."

Normally, the Academy rations out the Oscar show's star power, three or four names at a time. But this year, while the strike was taking place, Cates quietly set about booking the show, with the stars' participation contingent on whether a picket line would be in place.

With the strike over, the Academy released a nearly complete list of presenters. Last year's acting winners —Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Alan Arkin and Jennifer Hudson —have agreed to hand out trophies in their respective categories.

The presenter lineup also includes, in alphabetical order, Amy Adams, Jessica Alba, Cate Blanchett, Josh Brolin, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Penelope Cruz, Miley Cyrus, Patrick Dempsey, Cameron Diaz, Colin Farrell, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Garner, Tom Hanks, Anne Hathaway, Katherine Heigl, Jonah Hill, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Nicole Kidman, James McAvoy, Queen Latifah, Seth Rogen, Martin Scorsese, Hilary Swank, John Travolta, Denzel Washington and Renee Zellweger.

Adams will perform "Happy Working Song," one of the three tunes nominated from "Enchanted." She will be joined by Kristin Chenoweth and Marlon Saunders, handling "That's How You Know," and Jon McLaughlin, performing "So Close."

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova will perform their nominated song, "Falling Slowly," from "Once," and Jamia Simone Nash will perform "Raise It Up," from "August Rush," with the backing of the IMPACT Repertory Theatre of Harlem.

Although it's getting a late start in ballyhooing the broadcast's star wattage, ABC has been successful in selling commercial spots.

The network is getting an average of $1.8 million per 30-second spot, up from last year's average of $1.7 million a spot. That's not necessarily the going rate but instead an average of what advertisers are paying, depending on the deals they have struck with the networks.

The settled strike will assure that the Oscars are one of the biggest things on TV this year outside of the Super Bowl. The awards show's audience is one of the most coveted on TV, ranking high on the scales for affluence and education.

Only a handful of Academy Award advertisers have been announced, including heavy TV advertisers General Motors and Procter & Gamble. Others are American Express, Bertolli Frozen Dinners, Coca-Cola, Dove Cream Oil Bodywash, JCPenney, L'Oreal, Mars/Masterfoods, MasterCard and McDonald's.

Until the strike's resolution, Cates had been simultaneously readying two shows: Plan A, a traditional show, and Plan B, which he described as "the most exotic and entertaining clip show in the history of television," to be used in the event that actors and writers boycotted the proceedings.

"There is a little part of me — very small, very, very small — but a little part of me that would have like to have done that show just to see how it would have worked out," Cates said.

Interjected Ganis, "There was no part of me that wanted to see it."

Gregg Kilday reported from Los Angeles; Paul J. Gough reported from New York.
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