Who Will Host and Produce the Oscars? The Contenders Emerge

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On Tuesday evening, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected its honorees for the 8th annual Governors Awards ceremony on Nov. 12. Now it will turn its attention to the even bigger event that it will put on next Feb. 26: the 89th Academy Awards.

No two decisions will shape that high-profile evening — Hollywood's biggest of the year — more than the choice of producer(s), which is made by Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and CEO Dawn Hudson, and then host(s), which is made by the producer(s) in consultation with the Academy's president and CEO and, to some degree, with ABC, the television network that airs the Oscars. While only those parties know for sure who is being targeted for those positions, The Hollywood Reporter has spoken with a wide assortment of people close to the decision-making process and can offer a bit of a window into their deliberations.

Last year's Academy Awards ceremony was produced by Oscar-nominated producer Reginald Hudlin (Django Unchained) and TV sportscasting vet David Hill — an arranged marriage of people favored by Boone Isaacs and Hudson, respectively — and was hosted by Chris Rock. The telecast, which came in the midst of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, attracted a slight increase in viewers between the ages of 18 and 49, but overall was the third least-watched in history, with the lowest total viewership in eight years. Suffice it to say that ABC, which was not thrilled with the selection of Hudlin and Hill to begin with, was far from pleased with those results.

Even so, Hudlin and Hill may be back in the saddle this go-around — almost certainly without Rock, as only Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal hosted consecutive ceremonies — since the Academy, under recent leadership, has concluded that it is wiser to take a gamble on a multiyear commitment with producers (plural, because they feel it's too big a job for one person) than it is to hand the gig to rookies. That's why Craig Zadan and Neil Meron stayed on the job for three years in a row, even though their first ceremony, hosted by Seth MacFarlane, proved divisive. And that may be why Hudlin and Hill, when questioned last year by THR about whether or not they'd signed a multiyear deal, dodged the question.

Who might the Academy go to if Hudlin and Hill don't return? It certainly could go back to some combination of people who produced or executive produced previous ceremonies, such as Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, who oversaw the acclaimed 2009 Hugh Jackman-hosted edition, or Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, who were behind the 2010 edition co-hosted by Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. It might make sense to pair Brian Grazer, who co-produced the 2012 edition, with his Imagine Entertainment co-chair Michael Rosenberg, if the company could spare them both. (Zadan and Meron presumably are unavailable due to their commitments to upcoming live productions of Hairspray! and A Few Good Men for NBC, and Condon also is busy with postproduction on Disney's Beauty and the Beast.)

But I've heard that several highly respected producers have been discussed — perhaps to work in tandem with an old hand who could hit the ground running, like Don Mischer, who co-produced the 2011 and 2012 editions and also directed those and many others — and are prepared to say yes if formally offered the gig.

Dana Brunetti, the 43-year-old producer who was Oscar-nominated (The Social Network and Captain Phillips) and Emmy-nominated (House of Cards) before becoming president of production at Relativity Media earlier this year, is said to be interested. He could partner with his friend and 50 Shades collaborator Michael De Luca, and might be able to deliver an outside-the-box host: his Trigger Street Productions producing partner, Kevin Spacey. The House of Cards star, who has expressed interest in hosting in years past, not only acts, but sings, dances and can be very funny, and could bridge the gap between the older viewers who are the Oscar telecast's base and the younger viewers ABC hopes to attract.

Scott Sanders, who saved Radio City Music Hall before becoming an esteemed Broadway producer (he won his second Tony this year, for The Color Purple), and whose Scott Sanders Theatrical Productions has a first-look deal at Sony, certainly knows how to put on a show. Just as importantly, Sanders, who long has known Hudson, possesses the sort of deep Rolodex that the Academy looks for in a producer, who is tasked with locking down not only a host but also presenters. Sanders' A-list friends and champions include Oprah Winfrey, Harvey Weinstein, Quincy Jones, Jennifer Hudson and potential host Queen Latifah, whose 2005 Grammy-nominated jazz album he produced.

And how's this for a blast from the past: hitmaker Brett Ratner, who was slated to produce the Oscars four-plus years ago but withdrew under pressure after using a gay slur, may be back in the mix. He's done his penance and been a model member of the Hollywood community in the years since, and he might again be able to deliver the host who he had lined up for that ceremony, but who loyally dropped out a day after he did: Eddie Murphy. In a rare interview that Murphy recently granted to THR, the fan favorite — who could be in the running for an Oscar this year for his performance in the drama Mr. Church, which was produced by another potential Oscar producer, Cinelou's Mark Canton (300) — defended the Academy and expressed an openness to returning to standup comedy in the near future. The Oscars might serve as a nice stepping stone to doing so.

However, Murphy's unpredictability — he went off-script and criticized the Academy while presenting the best picture Oscar in 1988, and walked out of the Oscars shortly after being upset by Alan Arkin for the best supporting actor Oscar in 2007 — would give pause to the suits at ABC. In theory, they would prefer that the job go to their own star, the Emmy-nominated Jimmy Kimmel Live! host Jimmy Kimmel. But Kimmel will be hosting the Emmys on Sept. 18, so it's doubtful he would be asked — or agree — to take on the Oscars right on the heels of that. And it seems that if he wanted the Oscars gig, he would have landed it before now; instead, he has seemed quite content to host a post-Oscars special.

The low-paying, high-pressure job does not appeal to everyone. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who have co-hosted the Golden Globes, have both privately and publicly said that they would never host the Oscars, which feels much less like a party. THR has learned that the two former stars of Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, separately have been approached about hosting and said no. Seinfeld told THR last week, "In sports, they call it 'a trap game' — it's like a game you're supposed to win because the other team is so much worse, but you end up losing because you forget to try. The Oscars is a trap game."

THR has learned that Louis-Dreyfus, the Emmy-winning star of Veep, was all but committed to taking on the job of hosting the 2015 show, but got cold feet and withdrew late in the game, which created the opening that Zadan and Meron filled, fatefully, with Neil Patrick Harris. A year later, Hudlin and Hill approached Rock and Amy Schumer (whose HBO comedy special Rock had recently directed) about co-hosting, but Schumer begged off, resulting in Rock hosting solo.

This year, serious consideration almost certainly will be given to Louis C.K., who impressed Academy and ABC officials with his hilarious presentation of the best documentary short Oscar at this year's ceremony — but his fan base, while passionate, is relatively small. (That also is a deterrent to tapping the comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.) Officials also are expected to take a close look at Kevin Hart, the star of many hit comedies who openly and repeatedly has begged for the job, but who ticked off some of the aforementioned officials by going off-script at the same ceremony. (Perhaps pairing him with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — his friend, co-star in this summer's blockbuster Central Intelligence and co-host of this year's MTV Movie Awards, who also is said to be interested in the hosting job — would alleviate some of their concerns.)

Both the producer and host positions are expected to be filled in the coming week or two, in order to provide as much prep time as possible for the individuals who land these jobs.