Oscars: It's January, So Why Is There Still No Host?

As the holiday break comes to an end and Hollywood's denizens stagger back to their offices, it is dawning on many that the Academy still has not found someone to host the 91st Oscars on Feb. 24 — just 53 days from now.

The Academy thought it solved this problem back on Dec. 4, when it announced that Kevin Hart would do the honors. But Hart withdrew just two days later amid an outcry over homophobic tweets that he had posted years earlier and his initial reluctance to apologize for them. Since then, Donna Gigliotti, who is producing the telecast for the first time, has been hunkered down in closely guarded conversations with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and president John Bailey.

Sources within the Academy's 300-person staff and 54-person board of governors have told The Hollywood Reporter that they have no idea how things are progressing, but they are growing concerned as Hollywood's biggest night rapidly approaches. Indeed, not since Jon Stewart was announced as the host of the 78th Oscars on Jan. 5, 2006, and only once before that in the 21st century, when Whoopi Goldberg was announced as the host of the 74th on Jan. 7, 2002, has the search for a host extended into the calendar year of the show itself.

What is known is what the Academy and ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, do not want. They do not want someone who is socially divisive (especially after the Hart debacle), having concluded that politically outspoken hosts have contributed to the show's ratings declines in recent years; and they do not want someone who primarily appeals to older viewers, who are likely to watch the show regardless of who hosts.

One or both of these prerequisites probably rules out most past hosts — the AARP-eligible Billy Crystal (whose appearance in blackface at the 84th Oscars is also problematic), Steve Martin, David Letterman, Stewart and Goldberg, plus the controversial Alec Baldwin (who plays Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live), Seth MacFarlane (who was accused of being misogynistic at the 85th Oscars) and Chris Rock (who made Asian kids the butt of a joke at the 88th). And one or both of those reasons would probably preclude some other interesting candidates — such as Ricky Gervais, Hannah Gadsby, RuPaul, John Oliver, Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher or Dave Chappelle — from receiving an invitation.

Further complicating matters is the Hart factor. Anyone who has been approached since Hart's withdrawal knows — and knows that everyone else will know — that he or she was a backup option, a second choice. Moreover, people who might consider hosting in other years, such as Dwayne Johnson, are probably reluctant to accept this year, not wanting to look like they are benefiting from the misfortunes of a friend.

The list of options is further winnowed by other considerations. The host cannot be someone closely associated with a rival broadcast network — like Kimmel's late-night competitors from CBS, Stephen Colbert or James Corden, or NBC, Jimmy Fallon or Seth Meyers, or probably even someone from the scripted side like Sterling K. Brown of NBC's This Is Us. The host also cannot be someone who has already agreed to host a competing awards show this season, such as Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg (the Golden Globes) or Megan Mullally (the SAG Awards). And the host won't be Tiffany Haddish, whose performance at last year's Oscar nominations announcement knocked her out of the running as far as the Academy's president was concerned, even before her New Year's Eve meltdown in Miami; Amy Schumer, who is very pregnant; or Hugh Jackman, who is already training several hours a day for his recently announced worldwide concert tour that will begin in the spring.

Some people who undoubtedly are on the Academy's wish list have explicitly stated that they will never agree to host the Oscars — among them Justin Timberlake, Melissa McCarthy, Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Krasinski, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And others who might well do a good job — such as Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Kumail Nanjiani, Busy Philipps, Josh Gad, Billy Eichner or Ken Jeong (Whoopi Goldberg's preferred choice) — probably lack the sort of profile needed to garner ABC's support.

As time grows shorter, the prospect of multiple hosts, which once seemed very real, decreases — the Academy and ABC undoubtedly want to get started with the planning of the show — while the prospect of a phone-a-friend candidate grows. In others words, ABC, the Academy or Gigliotti may have to call in a special favor.

Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the past two ceremonies, has made it clear that he does not want to host again. (Even for someone who doesn't have a nightly talk show, hosting demands a lot of time and work in return for little pay and a lot of post-show grief.) But he could receive a direct request from the head of ABC's parent company Disney, Bob Iger, and would probably find it hard to say no. Alternatively, a similar call could be placed to Lin-Manuel Miranda (even though he is scheduled to be appearing in Hamilton in Puerto Rico through Jan. 27) and/or Emily Blunt, the stars of Disney's Mary Poppins Returns.

The Academy, meanwhile, could lean on one of the actors who serves or has recently served on its board of governors: Goldberg, who also appears every day on ABC's The View (synergy!); Laura Dern, who could conceivably partner with her co-stars from Big Little Lies or her old friend Ellen DeGeneres, who hosted the 79th and 86th ceremonies but has expressed little interest in returning; or even Tom Hanks, who termed out of office on the board and was replaced by Alfred Molina last June, but remains heavily involved in Academy affairs.

Gigliotti, for her part, could probably make a run at Jennifer Lawrence, whom she helped turn into a star with Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence loved filling in for Kimmel on his late-night show in 2017 and might be amenable to doing the Oscars, too, if she was partnered with someone she likes, such as her Passengers co-star Chris Pratt — although the specter of the 83rd Oscars, which was disastrously co-hosted by actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway, might prove hard to shake.

My own feeling is that there are several others who are worth pursuing, including Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Wiig, Donald Glover and even Neil Patrick Harris, who might want to try to redeem himself after the sub-par 87th Oscars (with the magic trick that never quite paid off). But, for me, the ideal scenario would be for the job to go to Oscar winner John Legend, possibly paired with his wife Chrissy Teigen, who is a model, TV personality and all-around character. They may both be young (40 and 33, respectively) and not apolitical. But they are also both experienced at high-pressure gigs (Legend, for instance, performed at the Oscars in 2015 and 2017). They are fun, classy and glamorous. They have complementary talents — he sings and dances, she's hilarious off-the-cuff. And they have a lot of famous friends whom they can recruit to play a part in the show. I suspect Legend would want to do it because he already has checked off almost everything else he could possibly aspire to do in showbiz (he's the youngest-ever EGOT) and Teigen would do it because she seems game for just about anything.