Oscars: Having Chris Rock Back to Host Is a Missed Opportunity (Opinion)

THR's awards analyst explains why he feels Kevin Hart was the best person for the thankless job.
Meredith Jenks
Chris Rock

Nearly two months ago, when the Academy announced that Reginald Hudlin and David Hill had been tapped to produce the 88th Oscars, nobody was more supportive of their selection than me. But I regret to report that I am baffled by their handling of the biggest decision they will get to make — namely, their selection of the show's host, now that they've announced they've decided on Chris Rock.

The 2016 Oscar show was supposed to be the "the new-and-improved Oscars." However, by hiring of Rock for the job he previously held in 2005, they've taken a step backward, not a step forward. Rock's first gig as Oscar host earned him mixed-leaning-poor reviews. And his ratings were lower than when Billy Crystal hosted the previous year. To be fair, Rock's Oscar stint attracted 42.1 million viewers, and in the decade since only one Oscar host, Ellen DeGeneres has attracted a larger audience (43.7 million). And, of course, Rock is funny — anyone with even a hint of a sense of humor knows that. But, still, why would anyone who hasn't previously tuned in to the Oscars, the ratings of which declined sharply last year, tune in to see someone they've been offered — and declined — the chance to see before?

Embracing diversity has been a major initiative at the Academy under the presidency of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, herself a black woman, so it makes sense that Hudlin and Hill might heed that call by hiring a black host. But what is fairly baffling to me is why they went back to Rock when Kevin Hart, who is fresher and hipper, was begging to do the thankless job. He starred in two of this year's biggest comedy hits, Get Hard and The Wedding Ringer, and would have brought in more younger viewers than the show has ever attracted.

A few specific things probably played in Rock's favor. Hudlin and Rock know each other — Hudlin directed him in the 1992 film Boomerang and the 2005 pilot of the TV series Everybody Hates Chris. ABC, which airs the Oscars, probably preferred Rock, who is a bigger "name" than Hart and who also looks like an edgy choice but understands the boundaries of broadcast TV. And they all presumably hoped that Rock could help the producers loop in as a co-host his friend and sizzling-hot fellow comedian Amy Schumer, whose current HBO special Rock directed. (Hill said on the day he was announced as the show's producer that he wanted two hosts; Schumer reportedly declined an invite.)

Chris Rock is a brilliant guy who might well do a fine job hosting the Oscars — nobody will be pulling harder for him to succeed than I will. And, in fairness, I've been wrong before about an Oscar host — I thought Neil Patrick Harris was the perfect man for the job last year, and that proved to be far from the case. But what I took away from the last three years, during which the Oscars were produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, is that the Academy needs producers and a host who will help them to grow their audience if the Oscars aren't going to start to gradually fade away.

The core group of people who have tuned in to the show in the past will continue to tune in in the future regardless of who the host is; the problem is that their numbers are not getting larger and, thanks to actuarial realities, are actually getting smaller. The Academy, like the Republican Party, needs to expand its tent if it wants to survive. I am confident that Kevin Hart would have helped them to do that. And I'm disappointed that he won't get the chance to prove it.

Oct. 21, 1:23 p.m. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rock was the only person of color to have hosted the Oscars. THR regrets the error.

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