Oscars: Former Producers on How to Fix the Show

Jim Spellman/WireImage; Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Bruce Cohen, Lili Fini Zanuck

"If you have someone who has a kind of snark, it shuts something down," says Bill Condon, who co-produced the 2009 ceremony, as he and others who've handled Hollywood's big night offer advice to Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd.

So what do Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd, who are producing the 89th Academy Awards telecast, need to know?

First, don't ignore events in the outside world. "One of the issues any year, but certainly this year, is how to place the show in the context of the current climate, so I'm sure that's an issue Michael and Jennifer are wrestling with," says Bruce Cohen, a producer of the 2011 ceremony.

But don't ignore the audience at the Dolby. "To me, the big rule is: Make sure it's good in the room first. You can't have someone who's too hip in that job as host, because with all those nervous people in the audience, if you have someone who has a kind of snark, it shuts something down," says Bill Condon, who produced in 2009 with Laurence Mark, who adds, "Never ever cut anybody off, because it seems to send a chill through the room."

Do be prepared to make cuts on the fly, though, advises Lili Fini Zanuck, who produced the 2000 Oscars with late husband Richard. "You think you have it tight and slick, but after the first couple of people win, it starts to fall apart. If you don't play them off, you're a couple of minutes over. Then, Warren Beatty's acceptance of the Thalberg took 15 minutes," she recalls. "Billy Crystal started dumping material, and Dick and I started dumping film packages. And we still went over the time."

Several producers also warned, be prepared for a surge of adrenaline as the show starts. "I took up the Academy's offer to get me a room at the Renaissance Hotel next door," says Cohen, who retreated there after the morning rehearsal. "That time there by myself was calming in preparation for the storm that was about to come."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.