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With one simple tweet, producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have thrown the door open for the Academy to make some real changes in next year’s Oscars telecast.
“Hoping that whoever produces the #Oscars next year will retain our innovations: #TeamOscar program & reading all 24 nom on Oscar nom morning,” Zadan wrote on March 7.
That sounded awfully like an acknowledgment that he and Meron won’t be back for a fourth run at the top of the Oscars show. And while a rep for the producers says nothing has been decided, many in Hollywood believe it’s time for someone else to take over.
Their loss could be the Academy’s gain — if it is prepared to be bold.
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association learned this lesson before. The organization, once among the most lampooned and lambasted in the business, took a shot in the dark in 2010 when it hired Ricky Gervais as host — and reaped critical kudos and a ratings boost as a result.
By contrast, the Academy has been playing it safe for years. In fact, there’s a certain irony to nominating a slew of cutting-edge films such as Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash while staging an awards show whose most avant-garde moment came when Lady Gaga sang a tribute to The Sound of Music.
Now is the time for change, and that begins with finding the right producer.
Read More Oscars: Academy Weighing Return to Five Best Picture Nominees (Exclusive)
It’s a thankless task, admittedly. The producer is a servant to two masters — the Academy and ABC, which airs the show — and likely will find that ABC scotches any host who’s closely associated with another network (Jimmy Fallon, for instance).
“The producing thing is hard,” says one Academy insider who’s worked on the show. “But the Academy should now meet and greet all sorts of folks, just to get their ideas and see what comes out of it — not even about producing the show but just to see what they have to say.”
Referring to Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the insider adds: “Cheryl should cast a wide net and have a bunch of meetings with people. Whatever ideas they have, she should listen to them. Then, when you hear the right thing, you wait 20 minutes and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you produce the show?’ ”
Here are six people who could do it well:
The director of Beetlejuice and Frankenweenie has a unique vision that recently was celebrated by the Museum of Modern Art, and he’d make the show a must-see, says one major-franchise producer. He’d also lure big stars (an essential part of the job), including those who’ve worked with him (Johnny Depp, Amy Adams, Michael Keaton) and those who want to. Pair Burton with a nuts-and-bolts producer (someone like the late Richard Zanuck), and he could create magic.
2 JULIE TAYMOR
Taymor doesn’t hold Burton’s appeal to A-list talent, but she knows how to work with a proscenium arch. With a slow-burning movie career (Frida, Across the Universe), she’s nonetheless a visionary who reimagined Disney’s The Lion King and could reinvent the Oscars. Who cares if she created a kerfuffle with Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark? That was Broadway, and Hollywood needs more of her risk-taking.
3 BRETT RATNER
Ratner may be one of the original Hollywood bad boys, but at least he has a sense of fun. The Hercules helmer was meant to run the 84th Oscars in 2012 then had to pull out after using a gay slur. Now, he’s reformed himself as a genuine mogul with his RatPac Entertainment, and you can bet he’s ready for a second shot. He’s also got tons of industry friends who would jump to appear on the show. “We never got a chance to see what he would have done when he was going to run the Oscars three years ago,” says one top producer. “Let’s give him a chance.”
The mega-producer of Saturday Night Live is an NBC powerhouse — which could create all sorts of problems for ABC. But he has the clout to do what he wants: He’s made SNL a success for four decades (including the show’s recent 40th anniversary special that lured a who’s who of comedians and actors like Jack Nicholson who don’t bother to attend the Oscars anymore); he’s produced movies from Wayne’s World to Mean Girls; and he’s a behind-the-scenes mega-player in late night and beyond, with a Rolodex unrivaled in Hollywood. He even might be able to lure Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to host the big show.
5 BAZ LUHRMANN
The Globes always touted itself as the best party in town — and aimed to make viewers feel they’d attended it, too. But nobody knows how to throw a party like the Great Gatsby director, and if he can do it on film, he can do it onstage. He may be a handful to deal with, but for a one-off like this, he’s worth it.
The showman-to-end-all-showmen was salivating for an Oscar and got one for Shakespeare in Love. Now, tell him he can add an Emmy to his mantel if he produces the Academy Awards. OK, so the show might be a three-hour ad for The Weinstein Co.’s movies. So what? It already is.
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