Oscars: Jimmy Kimmel Pick a Sign of ABC Flexing Its Muscles in Wake of New Academy Deal

THR's awards analyst says the extension to ABC's TV rights deal with the Academy, reached back in August, may have come with an implicit understanding that the network's late-night star finally would get his shot.
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Jimmy Kimmel

With a less than three months remaining before the 89th Oscars on Feb. 26, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally has found a host for the biggest non-sports-related television event of the year, and it's Jimmy Kimmel.

Why it took an almost unprecedented amount of time to arrive at this most obvious of picks — Hugh Jackman was picked on Dec. 12 eight years ago, but most hosts have been chosen much earlier in the year than that — is somewhat hard to understand. ABC is, and since 1976 has been, the broadcast home of the Oscars. Kimmel is, and since 2003 has been, ABC's late-night star. And yet, even as the Academy has struggled to find hosts in recent years, Kimmel, who long has been ready, willing and able to step up to the plate, hasn't, until now, gotten his shot to cross Hollywood Boulevard, from his studio at the Hollywood Masonic Temple to the Oscars' home at the Dolby Theatre.

So what changed? Why did it take so long to give a shot to a middle-aged straight white guy whose wry humor plays well in red and blue states alike, just like the most successful Oscar host of all-time, Johnny Carson?

ABC and the Academy have always engaged in a bit of a wrestling match: The network pays a fortune for the right to air the Oscars, and the Academy fights for and retains final sign-off on the host selection. However, back in August, with the Academy's bargaining position looking awfully weak following a string of poorly rated shows and at a time when the organization still is trying to pay for its under-construction Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the parties extended a deal, that was set to expire in 2020, all the way through 2028.

In other words, ABC bailed the Academy out — but the network got several concessions of its own, including greater influence in the host selection process. In the months since, ABC chief Ben Sherwood has made no secret of the fact that he wanted his guy to get the gig.

Still, some thought the Academy might wait a year before tapping Kimmel to host the Oscars, since he also hosted the Emmys on ABC back in September. Nine people previously have hosted both award shows — Carson, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Neil Patrick Harris — but none in the same cycle before now. Apparently, that wasn't a deal-breaker for Kimmel, whose Emmys-hosting garnered rave reviews.

Oddly, in light of the drawn-out selection process, I'm told that first-time Oscar show producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd actually went out to very few candidates other than Kimmel, and never to the guy who I've long been pushing: comedy superstar Kevin Hart. Hart has been begging for the job for years, but will be on a comedy tour between now and the Oscars and might not have been able to give the gig the time it requires anyway. Maybe in 2018.

For next year, it's Kimmel who will get his shot. And he deserves it.

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