Oscars ceremony promises to deliver on a grand scale

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So after all of the speculation and fear and worst-case scenarios, it turns out that the Oscars will be the Oscars after all. The 80th Annual Academy Awards telecast that viewers will see Sunday night on ABC (beginning with the official red carpet arrival show at 5 p.m. PST) will be far closer to awards show business as usual than was thought likely as little as three weeks ago.

While Oscar producer Gilbert Cates had declined to cite specifics, insiders have speculated since November that -- with Hollywood luminaries and nominees forced to stay home out of deference to the WGA strike picket line and SAG solidarity -- the audience at home would be treated to a starless spectacle rife with elongated clip packages and montages along with zero celebrity cache.

But with the Feb. 12 settlement of the walkout, "the event that everybody expects" is poised to unfold, as Cates puts it. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Sid Ganis speaks the obvious in noting that there's "great relief" in the fact that everyone can now attend the Oscars "without hesitation or discomfort."

That means a red carpet and the usual A-list collection of past winners and film heavyweights among the presenters, including last year's acting winners Alan Arkin, Jennifer Hudson, Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker, along with Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Jennifer Garner, Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman, Queen Latifah, Martin Scorsese, Hilary Swank, John Travolta, Denzel Washington and Renee Zellweger.

While the presenters are getting their Oscar scripts far later than usual and will thus have less time to memorize introductions and cues, so too will the performers honoring the best song nominees enjoy less rehearsal time than they otherwise might have, it is assumed. Those singing live at the Kodak Theatre will include Amy Adams (chirping "Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted") and Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth (doing a duet with Marlon Saunders on "That's How You Know," also from "Enchanted").

It's also a given that host Jon Stewart will be setting a tone of deadpan wit from his hosting post onstage, keeping the proceedings light, lively and divertingly dry. His writers will include Hal Kanter, Buz Kohan, Jon Macks and the inimitable Bruce Vilanch, along with Stewart's "Daily Show" team of scribes.

But what else will the world see on TV?

"It's going to be one very big celebration," promises Louis J. Horvitz, who on Sunday is directing his 12th Oscar telecast and has won Emmy honors for four of his previous 11 Academy Awards assignments.

"We always try to throw some new things in that you've never seen before, but it's still about achievement in filmmaking and the way Hollywood works its magic. The technical specs don't really change all that much from year to year. But it's nice not to have to go with any sort of contingency plan, of course."

Advertising on the Oscarcast is fetching up to a record $1.82 million for a 30-second spot. On board to peddle their wares during a program that's come to be seen as the Super Bowl of entertainment are American Express, Coca-Cola, GM, J.C. Penney,

L'Oreal, MasterCard and McDonald's.

Both Cates and Horvitz insist that no special theme is planned to honor the fact that this is the 80th Oscars, with Horvitz striving only, as he always does, to deliver a show that's "clean, sophisticated and elegant," he says.

"People won't see a lot of big film packages. It's going to be as fast-paced a show as we can possibly make a three-and-a-half-hour show. I can also guarantee that the

people at home planning a party around this won't get bored."            
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