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The Academy Awards are going from a host drought to a deluge. This year’s Oscars will be a three-act show, with each one-hour act emceed by a different host, according to two sources with knowledge of the telecast planning.
After three years of hostless Oscars, the multi-host strategy helps address the biggest deterrents for potential emcees — the time commitment of preparing for the lengthy show and the often unflattering glare of the spotlight that the high-pressure gig can shine on entertainers. The plan also gives the Academy an opportunity to hire hosts who can attract different demographics to the flagging ABC telecast.
The 94th Academy Awards, which will broadcast live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on March 27, arrive as awards shows in general and the Oscars in particular are trying to avert a ratings disaster and reclaim a sense of cultural relevance. Producer Will Packer will bear the burden of those expectations, as would any host, but a group of hosts can at least share it.
Hosts have no power over the nominees or controversies they inherit and at times, the Oscars hosting gig can seem like a thankless one. In 2016, Chris Rock led the show through the #OscarsSoWhite moment, and in 2017 Jimmy Kimmel presided over the chaotic, live TV gold of Envelopegate.
In 2019, comedian Kevin Hart stepped down from the job when a series of his old homophobic tweets resurfaced, and after watching that controversy unfold, few performers wanted to step into the role, spurring the Academy to go hostless. The audience for 2019’s hostless Oscars actually grew from Kimmel’s 2018 telecast to a viewership of 29.56 million, before falling in 2020 to 23.64 million and then plummeting last year to 10.40 million.
Last year’s telecast producers — Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins — executed a variation of the multi-host idea, as some presenters played a larger role than just announcing a category and its winner. Regina King, for instance, opened the unorthodox show by walking in a long tracking shot at L.A.’s Union Station and delivering a monologue about racial justice, the pandemic and how the Oscars were handling COVID-19 protocols. “As the show began to take shape, it felt like it would be better served if each act was approached as a discrete storytelling chapter and you have a guide for each of those chapters,” Soderbergh said ahead of last year’s show, explaining why he was expanding presenters’ duties.
After decamping to novel locations like Union Station and the Academy Museum in 2021, this year’s Oscars will be returning to the 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre, where hosts will have to entertain an audience of nervous nominees. When it comes to engaging the audience watching at home, they’ll have their work cut out for them. Thanks to the bleak pandemic box office, few of the best picture nominees have been widely seen, and there is no broadly appealing hit like The Lord of the Rings, which attracted the largest Oscars audience of this century in 2004, at 46 million viewers.
Additional reporting by Scott Feinberg.
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