Oscars: Why Producer Donna Gigliotti Should Pick More Than Two Hosts

oscar statuettes - Getty - H 2018
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Donna Gigliotti, who will produce the 91st Oscars telecast (along with co-producer and director Glenn Weiss), has a challenging but exciting task in front of her: figuring out who will host the kudocast on Feb. 24, 2019.

In response to two years of double-digit percentage decreases in the telecast's ratings, the Academy and ABC have decided that several of the 24 categories that were presented on the most recent telecast will be presented during commercial breaks at the next one (with highlights aired as interstitials coming in or out of breaks), and that the show itself, which most recently ran three hours and 53 minutes, will absolutely come in at no more than three hours (something it hasn't done since 1973). That means that the show not only can but must be reimagined — ideally in a way that will make viewers, and particularly younger viewers, care about the Oscars again.

Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the last two ceremonies (the first made famous by "Envelopegate"), will not three-peat, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. He found the workload extremely demanding on top of a nightly talk show, and though ABC was happy to have its late-night star in the spotlight, it wasn't thrilled by the ratings he drew or the flak he took for them. Additionally, the network has reportedly concluded that a host without a partisan political profile will allow them to reach a broader audience, as viewers across the country increasingly say they are turned off by the intrusion of politics in entertainment.

It's hard to imagine many of the other 21st century hosts being asked back, either. Maybe Ellen DeGeneres or Hugh Jackman. Almost certainly not Billy Crystal or Steve Martin (too old); Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart or Neil Patrick Harris (too politically divisive); or Chris Rock or Seth MacFarlane (too politically incorrect). And definitely not James Franco or Anne Hathaway.

Gigliotti would surely like to bring in an exciting first-timer, but options are limited. Several cool candidates, including Justin TimberlakeJulia Louis-DreyfusMelissa McCarthy and Jerry Seinfeld, have told me that they will never do it. Others, like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, have said as much to others. ABC won't approve a broadcast competitor, such as CBS' Stephen Colbert or James Corden or NBC's Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers. Others who are capable of doing a great job, like John Mulaney or Kumail Nanjiani, probably don't yet have a high enough public profile. And still others are seen as either too political, like Samantha Bee and John Oliver, or politically incorrect, like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais. (Gervais told me last year, "I would do it and I'd go for it — and I'd alienate half the population; that's fine by me, though.")

So my hunch is that we may see something that we haven't seen in 32 years, but saw not infrequently before that: an Oscars with more than two hosts.

For point of reference, there were three or more hosts at the 28th ceremony (Jerry Lewis, Claudette Colbert and Joseph L. Mankiewicz), 30th (Bob Hope, David Niven, James Stewart, Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell and Donald Duck), 31st (Hope, Niven, Lewis, Tony Randall, Mort Sahl and Laurence Olivier), 44th (Lemmon, Helen Hayes, Alan King and Sammy Davis, Jr.), 45th (Carol Burnett, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston and Rock Hudson), 46th (Niven, John Huston, Burt Reynolds and Diana Ross), 47th (Hope, Davis, Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra), 48th (Goldie Hawn, Gene Kelly, Walter Matthau, George Segal and Robert Shaw), 49th (Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda and Richard Pryor), 55th (Pryor, Matthau, Liza Minnelli, and Dudley Moore), 58th (Fonda, Alan Alda and Robin Williams) and 59th (Hawn, Chevy Chase and Paul Hogan).

With the new format of the 91st Oscars — fewer categories presented over a firm three hours — you could have three hourlong blocks or six half-hourlong blocks, each handled by one or two different hosts.

The Academy would have an easier time drawing a bigger audience with multiple — and demographically diverse — hosts, as each would appeal to a different constituency.

And, in Gigliotti, who is best known for producing excellent films with large ensembles (movies like Shakespeare in Love, which won the best picture Oscar, and The Reader, Silver Linings Playbook and Hidden Figures, which were all best picture nominees), the Academy has a producer with the Rolodex and relationships to deliver multiple big names and the experience and temperament to navigate their egos.

People like DeGeneres and Jackman might be more agreeable to returning if they don't have to shoulder the whole load of preparation and execution. Others, like Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson, might be funnier in smaller doses than in large. And people who who would never agree to host an entire Oscars ceremony might be willing to host one-third or one-sixth of one, particularly if paired with someone else — I mean, consider the possibility of having Jennifer Lawrence (who worked with Gigliotti on Silver Linings Playbook) and Amy Schumer (Lawrence's pal); Lin-Manuel Miranda and Cynthia Erivo (both Broadway-turned-Hollywood stars); Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson; or Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig!

(I wouldn't expect Tiffany Haddish to be among the candidates, even though many in the public were pushing for her after she and Maya Rudolph killed during their extended presentation of two of the shorts awards at the most recent ceremony; I am told that Academy president John Bailey was not happy after Haddish botched the reading of a bunch of names during last year's Oscar nominations announcement.)

The risk of having multiple hosts — and particularly hosts who haven't hosted things before — is that they probably would need more jokes to be pre-scripted, as they would not be as comfortable reacting to events as they unfold over the course of the show. But it may never have been harder to find one or two people who are both willing to take on the job of host for three hours and who are capable of drawing a large audience — the gig requires a lot of work, doesn't pay well and rarely elicits enthusiastic reviews. So this might be just the right time to take a gamble with more than two — the novelty of which would likely attract viewers in and of itself.

In any event, Gigliotti must make her decision soon. Since 2000, Oscar hosts have been announced as early as May 16 and, once, as late as Jan. 7. So stay tuned.