Oscars: Why Kimmel and Co. Are All Returning

If the presentation of the best picture Oscar had taken place without incident on Feb. 26, the 89th Academy Awards probably would have been remembered most for how effectively it was produced by Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd and hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, all rookies in their positions at the biggest awards show there is. Of course, the best picture Oscar presentation did not take place without incident, and so everything else took a back seat, at least for a little while.

But on Tuesday, the Academy announced that it had reached agreements with all three to return for the milestone 90th Oscars on March 4, 2017, which will make De Luca and Todd the first people to produce the ceremony in consecutive years since Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did so from 2013 through 2015 and Kimmel the first person to host it in consecutive years since Billy Crystal did so in 1997 and 1998.

"We were just honored that they did the show last year," outgoing Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told me Tuesday. "Everybody was so pleased, including them, and there's no reason not to keep that going. It's just good business, I think." She added, "It's very challenging putting on a live show for anybody, and certainly for folks for whom that's not normally in their wheelhouse, and they did a wonderful job. It's nice to have continuity with folks who just gelled beautifully."

The report card for the De Luca/Todd/Kimmel Oscars actually is a mixed one. On the one hand, Boone Isaacs absolutely is correct when she says, "Many people felt that it was one of our best" — critics, pundits and TV viewers certainly gave the show high marks. But, at the same time, relative to years past, precious few people tuned in at all — indeed, it was the second-lowest-rated Oscars telecast in history. ("I don't like to lose sight of the fact that we're still, by far, the highest-rated live show, non-sports, that there is," argues Boone Isaacs. "We can't minimize that and get caught up in numbers.")

I believe that there are a few reasons why low viewership didn't deter the Academy or its longtime broadcasting partner ABC from bringing back this creative team. (Technically, the Academy's board hires the producers and the producers then hire the host, in consultation with the Academy and ABC.) For one, Oscar ratings historically are a reflection of TV viewers' interest in the nominated films, above all else, and while there were a few big hits among the 89th set of nominees (i.e. Arrival and La La Land), there were far more art-house flicks that most in the general public never had heard of, let alone seen (i.e. Moonlight and Fences). In other words, De Luca, Todd and Kimmel largely had their hands tied and still put on a hell of a show.

But, even more pertinently, the Oscars are broadcast by ABC, and Kimmel's Jimmy Kimmel Live! anchors ABC's late-night lineup. Getting 32.9 million pairs of eyeballs on Kimmel, who generally averages around 2 million per week, is a major win for the Alphabet Network. True, that would have been the case in years past, when the Academy nevertheless went in other directions for its host. But what changed is that in 2016, ABC and the Academy negotiated a contract extension that reportedly gave the Academy a quick and much-needed infusion of cash (it's trying to complete a long-gestating museum) in return for ABC gaining more creative control over the telecast (including the selection of the host). So for the foreseeable future, ABC is going to get what ABC wants, within reason. (While De Luca and Todd may end up producing and Kimmel may end up hosting the next several Oscars, nothing is being promised beyond this year; Boone Isaacs said that all three agreed to a one-show deal before the last Oscars and got another one-show deal this time around.)

With this creative team returning for Oscar's 90th birthday, it seems likely that there may be a few other return guests, too. I asked Boone Isaacs if there has been any discussion about asking Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway and the team behind Moonlight — all victims of the PricewaterhouseCoopers rep's envelope flub at the 89th Oscars — to participate in the 90th. (It seems to me that it would be pretty cool to have Kimmel open the show with a monologue and then introduce Beatty and Dunaway, who would in turn introduce the team behind Moonlight. Imagine a curtain rising and having the entire Moonlight team walk forward onto the stage to receive the special acknowledgment that they were deprived of this go-around — guaranteed standing ovation!) "We've not gotten into the nitty-gritty of the show at all," insists Boone Isaacs. "There will be many thoughts about many different things that will go on as they get closer and really get involved in the actual show itself. The ideas are more about the celebration of the 90th, at this point."

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