Wanted: Oscar host able to get laughs from star-studded in-house audience, keep at-home viewers glued to marathon show and mollify network censors.
Pay is scale, exposure worldwide and reviews sometimes harsh.
No wonder few people want to host two years in a row, according to Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The search for someone to preside when the golden boys are handed out for the 78th time in March 2006 gets under way soon.
Come August, Frank Pierson calls it quits as academy president, having completed a four-year term. Before leaving, he’ll select the next Oscar producer, who in turn chooses the host in consultation with the academy.
This year, Gil Cates produced his record 12th Oscar show and boldly picked acerbic first-timer Chris Rock.
Rock helped ABC attract 41.5 million viewers. That was down 2 million from 2004, but ratings were up from last year among viewers aged 18 to 34 — those most coveted by advertisers paying millions of dollars for time on the Oscarcast.
“We were very, very happy,” Davis said. “We noticed the ratings of other movie award shows and everybody was in free fall this year. There was every chance we would’ve had a huge drop as well, so a drop of (2 million) was pretty good.”
Davis attributed the boost in younger viewership to Rock.
“Almost everybody onboard was willing to give him complete credit with bringing that audience into the tent,” he said. “When you have a new host that strikes some sparks, there is evidence that ratings go up.”
Will Rock return?Afterward, Rock said he hoped to host the show again, although “who knows if they would want me again.”
Davis was mum on Rock’s chances.
“I really shouldn’t speculate,” he said. “We have our own list of needs. If we did the Oscars by polls, we’d give the nominations to the top five box-office films.”
Asked about future hosts, Davis demurred, saying: “I won’t play that game.”
But we will. Let’s have a look:
Rock, who presided over one of the brisker shows in recent memory. The rookie had some funny bits, but never came close to being as dirty as was feared or as bawdy as his standup act. Clearly, he was constrained by the event’s sensibility and the ABC censors. A daring choice, though, by Cates and the notoriously staid academy.
Billy Crystal, eight-time host known for his opening song-and-dance number poking fun at the top nominees. Last appeared in 2004 after a three-year absence. His populist sense of humor is a proven winner with viewers and his industry jokes play well to the industry audience.
Mike Myers. Shrek and Oscar, why not? The former “Saturday Night Live” comic knows how to work live TV. He’s a frequent presenter of award show hardware, making him worthy of a shot.
Ellen DeGeneres, daytime talk show host whose twice-delayed hosting gig at the 2001 Emmy Awards earned major kudos. Her monologue was hilarious and she maintained a perfect balance between respect and irreverence two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And wouldn’t her goofy dancing look good next to those giant Oscar statues?
Robin Williams, last seen taking this year’s Oscar stage with tape over his mouth to protest censoring of some of his gags. He co-hosted the 1986 show with, strangely enough, Alan Alda and Jane Fonda. His manic energy is legendary; but could he keep it up for three-plus hours without exhausting the audience?
David Letterman, hosted in 1995 and never invited back. Critics assailed him, but hey, maybe his “Oprah, Uma” chants weren’t that bad. Give Dave credit: he drew 81 million viewers — at the time the most in 12 years — and the show was a hit with younger men, a demographic the Oscars are desperate to lure back.
Jay Leno, late-night talk show host with minimal movie cachet, but then again that didn’t stop Johnny Carson. Leno would have to step up the barbs and ditch his ripped-from-the-nightly-news humor.
Steve Martin, who hosted in 2001 and again in 2003. His smug, self-involved persona is perfect for the Hollywood crowd. He kept things moving along, and on Oscar night that can be the biggest victory of all.
Whoopi Goldberg, four-time host whose jokes fell flat and came off as nasty without being clever in 1994. Her ’99 gig wasn’t much of an improvement, focusing on bodily functions and crude double entendres. Her most recent stint in 2002 resulted in the worst ratings in Oscar history. Hmm, maybe not.
Conan O’Brien, late-night smart aleck who honed his hosting skills presiding over the 2002 Emmys. He could draw the college crowd. O’Brien’s idea if he ran the Oscars? “I’d like to see people who present eating sandwiches or coming out with different food. Magazines could talk about not only, ‘What was J. Lo wearing?’ but ‘What was she eating?’ It looks like she’s wearing Versace and eating a chicken parmesan grinder. That’s good television,” he told People magazine.
Multiple hosts, an approach that made for some oddball pairings in the 1970s and ’80s. Helen Hayes, Alan King, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Lemmon in ’72; Richard Pryor, Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn and Warren Beatty in ’77; Pryor returned in ’83 with Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore and Walter Matthau; and Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul (“Crocodile Dundee”) Hogan teamed in ’87.
Maybe it’s time to return to those togetherness days, but with a tabloid twist: Would ex-loves Jennifer Lopez, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Ben Affleck do it for you?