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One would hope the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a subgroup huddled somewhere trying to fix the mess that was the lackluster 84th Annual Academy Awards. You know, like an emergency session. However, there’s little doubt they will be fighting amongst themselves over the very notion of change and whether it’s necessary.
Despite a lot of critical backlash for host Billy Crystal, he has no detractors inside the Academy. It would be astonishing if anyone of real importance thought Crystal bombed or failed in any way. He saved them. That’s likely the thought. And a lot of the viewing public likes him as well.
In addition, though the ratings were up a tick from last year (how could they not be?), they were down from 2010. And the Oscars underperformed against the Grammys and fell well below that show’s ratings in the coveted 18-to-49 demo.
Still, the scary notion today is that members of the Academy will think no changes are necessary. Some may say that the plan to skew younger in 2011 with James Franco and Anne Hathaway was a disaster, which it was, and therefore efforts to chase the younger demo do nothing but alienate what is clearly an older viewing bloc. But the problem in 2011 was not the idea to go younger, it was foolishly picking that hosting duo, particularly Franco.
And yet, it might be difficult for older Academy members and some older viewers to realize how essential it is to not look like you’re staging a show on a cruise ship. If viewers in the 18-to-49 demo are bored by the Oscars, the core base will eventually erode as the years go on. With so much more competition in the awards show arena – particularly from the Golden Globes – the Academy has to realize a truism that might cause it some pain:
The Oscars are not that special anymore. Yes, it’s still the leader in prestige. But you can’t coast on that. Any look around the entertainment world will give Academy power players a clear picture that if you grow stagnant and resist change, you will be passed over.
Going younger is not the only essential change the Academy must consider, but getting more original and creative in the show’s structure and presentation as well. That is significantly harder than just getting a host further removed from the Borscht Belt and Friars Club than Crystal. (A Sammy Davis Jr. joke? With or without Justin Bieber, that doesn’t resonate anymore.)
Someone needs to rethink the very idea of an awards show. And if the Oscars wants to separate itself from the field, it should be the Academy that comes up with this revamp. Who knows, maybe Brett Ratner (along with Eddie Murphy) was going to infuse the telecast with something new and invigorating. It’s encouraging to know the Academy was going for something different before Ratner and Murphy bailed. The mistake was not proceeding forward (Jimmy Kimmel?) instead of backward.
So how do you make the Oscars less staid? Certainly someone in Hollywood can come up with a fantastic set of ideas (though they haven’t — maybe the Academy is asking the wrong people for advice). In the meantime, there are some obvious trouble areas and places to improve:
1. The video montage with the host spoofing the nominated movies is over. Dead. Move on. That doesn’t rule out video bits — it should just rule out that particular one.
2. It’s a good bet that in 84 years and with the advent of technology and a surge in entertainment industry awareness among the general population, a significant number of people know what sound editing is, how makeup can shape a character or how special effects can enhance a movie. Stop trying to educate us about the categories.
3. If the 84th edition of this awards show taught us anything, it’s that montages are better used sporadically, not as a blunt instrument. And please, please don’t make more than one of them where people in the movie business are talking incessantly about how magical the movies are. We know; that’s why we go.
4. Structure and pace. It doesn’t have to be the supporting actor categories that kick off the night, but give viewers something big up front. That hooks them. Then judiciously dole them out as you go — don’t stuff filler into the middle. Make as much of the telecast as exciting as the last half-hour. And whatever you do, don’t rush that last half-hour with the major categories.
5. There has to be a more entertaining way to make cinematography a riveting category. It should be. There must be a way to approach art direction, costume design and makeup in some fresh fashion. Tell stories. Make people connect and care.
6. How about some clips of the actors and other industry types who appear in the In Memoriam section? Now that’s a montage that should be beefed up and improved. Cut something else.
7. Sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects — remember how people are more versed in how these work? Great, tell us about the nominees. Maybe have them talk about specific scenes or usage or stories where things went wrong or how hard it was to get a specific sound or look. Personalize what many nonpros would consider a dry topic.
The point is, throw out what’s been done for the past 40 or so years. Bring innovation to the telecast. Hosts will always be the initial focal point: Were they funny? Did they keep things moving? Did they maintain decorum? But once you fix the structure and bring new ideas and concepts to the categories — how to present them, how to make the nominees stand out, etc. — then you’ve really made the most important improvements.
8. Surely there has to be someone — some team? — out there who could erase the phony stage banter, warm up the event; even if you don’t like the Globes, it’s generally more fun and makes the actors look like they want to be there, not afraid for their lives. Everything, from seating style to the location of the event, should be reconsidered.
Yes, attempts at change have been made at the Oscars, some more successfully than others. It’s this willingness to at least try that is encouraging. Because here’s the thing: People want to watch. Like the Super Bowl, the numbers will always be impressive. But you can’t take that willingness, that inherent interest, for granted. One look at the 18-to-49 demo will tell you that younger viewers — the future — are disengaging. They have other options. They don’t buy unquestioningly into the allure and prestige of the Oscars.
Maybe if there’s change within the Academy, the results will show up on the small screen? Who knows? And who really knows all the right answers on how to reimagine the Oscars?
Someone does. Someone should find that person (or persons) quickly. Starting yesterday.
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