Oscars: How to Get People to Watch When No One's Seen the Movies

THR Craig Zadan Neil Meron - H 2015
Eric Ryan Anderson

THR Craig Zadan Neil Meron - H 2015

In their third outing, Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will bring snubbed stars (Jennifer Aniston) and diversity (Viola Davis) onstage to liven things up in an indie-dominated year, and reveal what to expect from Neil Patrick Harris.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Way back in April, the Academy announced that, for the third year in a row, it was entrusting the Oscar show to producers Craig Zadan, 65, and Neil Meron, 60. During their first stint, with host Seth MacFarlane, they got some withering reviews, but ratings grew by 4 percent. Last year's outing with Ellen DeGeneres got much better notices, and ratings were up by 9 percent to a 10-year high of 45.2 million viewers. Even though the two already were planning NBC's live Dec. 4 broadcast of Peter Pan, they immediately plunged into mapping out the Feb. 22 Academy Awards that will air live on ABC.

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When the nominations were announced, were you concerned that — except for American Sniper — most of this year's movies haven't attracted large audiences?

CRAIG ZADAN We had put the show together over the previous six months. The sets were designed. The entertainment was booked. There is a theory that if you have a year where you have a big movie or big movies that did over $100 million, the show would do ratings. And if you had a year where you had art films or lesser box-office hits, that it wouldn't do ratings. But we decided we weren't going to live or die by that. We were going to live or die by the entertainment.

Why Neil Patrick Harris as host?

ZADAN We ask ourselves, "Who is the best host for the show that we want do this year?" Last year, the answer was Ellen. This year, we needed something different, and the host that served our vision was Neil Patrick Harris. Neil has always wanted to do the Oscars, but the timing was never right for several reasons, one of which was that he had hosted the Tonys and then hosted the Emmys. And we could not even consider him in a year where he hosted other shows. But this year he hadn't hosted anything.

MERON And he also has a presence in film, being one of the leads in Gone Girl.

Read more Oscars 2015: Snubbed Stars to Take the Stage to Buoy Oscar Broadcast

Why did you ask Arrow and The Flash creator Greg Berlanti to head the writing team?

MERON Greg Berlanti and his group of writers are writing our part of the show, and Neil has his team of writers constructing his part of the show, and we'll bring the two teams together. Greg has a love of film, he understands the show and he just felt right.

ZADAN What's not true is, as people wrote, "They chose Greg Berlanti and he does The Flash and Arrow." It has nothing to do with The Flash or Arrow.

MERON Look at Brothers & Sisters. There's great humanity in his writing and great emotionality, and that's what we want.

So, is it easier the third time around?

ZADAN It's a blessing and a curse. We've learned how to do it, so we're competing against ourselves. That's the scary part.