The 81st Annual Academy Awards -- TV Review

It turns out producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark weren't kidding when they promised to reinvent the Academy Awards ceremony and thereby mend a broken and repetitive show that very much needed fixing. On Sunday night, they did just that, pulling off a heartfelt, elegant and stylish affair that played with uncommon flair over ABC.

One can quibble the effectiveness of the production numbers but not the fact that this wasn't the same old Oscar song and dance -- and the franchise is undeniably the better for it.

The newfangled touches were in the main a towering success because they put the Oscarcast's focus back where it should be: on the nominees and winners rather than some thematic salute to yesteryear. The gambit of having former winners pay homage to the acting nominees with singularly focused tributes to the performers and their roles was so warm and engaging it should be made part of every Academy Awards going forward. The incorporating of classic clips into the best picture intro likewise proved impactful for its sheer simplicity.

And wonder of wonders, no one got played off of the stage by the orchestra.

There was a 1940s nightclub feel in the ambiance and the shimmering rounded stage and a Broadway musical vibe that played to the strengths of first-time host Hugh Jackman, who seemed almost shockingly comfortable in the role.

Jackman eschewed a traditional monologue for a lighthearted opening production medley paying playful homage to the year's biggest films, which from what I understand played better in the room than on the tube -- where it came off awkward and forced. But Jackman found his sea legs to preside with his typical sprightly charm, faring better around the midway point with a spirited "The Musical Is Back" number beside a vivacious Beyonce.

A viewer also couldn't help but get caught up in the Bollywood-conquers-Hollywood electricity that enveloped the Kodak Theatre with "Slumdog Millionaire's" wildly popular eight-victory explosion that came complete with an economic-downturn-friendly Horatio Alger backstory. It was also perhaps fitting that at a time when SAG finds its contract talks imperiled, a film that featured no nominated actors from its cast would pull off such a haul.

There were few gaffes in the telecast and substantially less of the usual stilted wisecracking among presenters -- and in fact, far fewer presenters. It was a novel format that had people staying up there longer to dispense more awards, giving the proceedings less a feel of a teleprompter-fueled revolving door. Sean Penn and Kate Winslet gave stirring acceptance speeches as well, though Penn's began a bit painfully with his blurting, "You commie, homo-loving sons of guns" while holding his golden guy aloft. Even the Brits will be pleased this time, as Winslet was able to avoid crying (unlike at the Golden Globes) and kept the blubbering to a minimum.

Indeed, it was the kind of night when the winners were treated like winners rather than motorists whose parking meters are about to expire. And for a change, the audience didn't feel cheated. Long live Condon and Mark -- and Jackman.

Airdate: 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22 (ABC)
Production: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
Producers: Bill Condon, Laurence Mark
Supervising producer: Michael B. Seligman
Coordinating producer: Danette Herman
Associate producer: Joanne Dillon
Writers: Jon Macks, Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon, John Hoffman, Phil Alden Robinson, Bruce Vilanch
Special material written by: Don Harmon, Rob Schrab, Ben Schwartz, Joel Stein.
Director: Roger Goodman
Production designer: David Rockwell
Music director: Michael Giacchino
Lighting designer: Robert A. Dickinson
Host: Hugh Jackman
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