New Oscar Producers: Musical Numbers Possible, 'Couple of People' in Mind to Host

Neil Meron Craig Zadan - H 2011
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Neil Meron Craig Zadan - H 2011

"Music is in our DNA," Neil Meron admits. But Craig Zadan cautions, "It's premature to say what the show's going to be."

With Craig Zadan and Neil Meron producing the 85th Annual Academy Awards, musical numbers could make a comeback on the Feb. 24 broadcast.

The producing team, announced Thursday by Academy president Hawk Koch, has extensive musical theater credentials: Not only were they the executive producers of the best picture Oscar-winning movie musical Chicago, but they’ve also brought shows like Gypsy to the small screen and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to the Broadway stage.

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Last year’s producers, Brian Grazer and Don Mischer, de-emphasized the musical numbers, and while the new producing team isn’t yet ready to hint in what direction they will take the show, Meron said: “We really haven’t had time to get concrete about anything, but certainly music is in our DNA. It’s certainly not going to be ignored. But we have to take a look at the big picture and see how all that fits together.

“We have to see who the nominees are this year. A lot of the show comes together based on what the movies are,” he continued. “We’ve only had real creative meetings for a day or two, so it’s so premature to say what the show’s going to be. But you have to understand that, maybe for the last decade, Neil and I have talked among ourselves about things we could do. So we’ve been sort of in rehearsal for this for a decade. We started to share some of those tidbits with Hawk. He got excited. And we heard some of his ideas, and we got excited. So we thought this is a good collaboration, and we decided to move forward together.”

The producers’ first job is to line up a host -- and there, too, their background suggests they could reach beyond the world of stand-up comics to talent in the wider theater community, where they have extensive contacts. But neither was ready to discuss their developing wish list.

“Again, in the two days we’ve had to talk creatively with Hawk, we’ve thrown out some ideas, and there are a couple of people who floated to the top that we all got really excited about,” Zadan said. "We, of course, haven’t done anything about it yet. Now that we’re doing the show, we’ll be going to talk to the person or the people that we want to talk to."

This year, the Academy’s efforts to begin to put the Oscar show together were complicated when outgoing Academy president Tom Sherak began NBC veterans courting Lorne Michaels to produce and Jimmy Fallon to host -- only to see the discussions fall apart in the midst of objections from ABC, which airs the Oscars.

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Koch, who was named Academy president July 31, had to deal with the fallout, smoothing out relations with ABC as he went about lining up producers himself. But, he insists, when the notion of asking Zadan and Meron came to him, the choice was easy. “I’d been thinking about who to go to, and I woke up one night and just thought Craig and Neil, they’d be perfect," Koch said. "They are wonderful producers of films. They have great taste. They’ve done television and live television. They’ve done theater. They’ve won Tonys, they’ve won Emmys, Grammies. They’re the right guys. And when I called, they told me they were so excited because ever since they did The Bucket List, producing the Oscars was on the top of their own bucket list.” 

“We started a series of conversations about it," Zadan said. "It started to formalize itself during the last couple of days.” 

Although neither man has worked with Koch before, Zadan said that he and Koch first met back in 1980 at a test screening of The Idolmaker in New Orleans. At the time, Zadan was a vp at United Artists, and Koch was one of the producers of the film. “But we’ve known each other as colleagues, and we’ve always admired his work,” Meron said.

The producers come with a number of existing commitments. They are executive producers on NBC’s backstage-at-the-theater series Smash, which is shooting the fourth episode of its sophomore season. They also are planning a live, holiday-timed production of The Sound of Music on NBC. Although no airdate has been set, that show is now expected to move to later in 2013 to allow the producers to focus on the Oscars. The producers also recently signed a first-look deal with Universal Television and NBCUniversal.

"We know it’s going to involve a bit of juggling, but the priority certainly is going to be to produce the best show for the Academy that we can do,” Meron said. “We very carefully had to go to all the people we are in business with and get their support,” he added, specifically mentioning that NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt encouraged them to take on the Oscar assignment.

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As for the daunting task of taking on the Oscar show, Zadan summed it up by saying: “It’s always been a dream of ours. Working in features, television, theater -- you combine all of those skills, and it’s the Oscars.”