“Hairspray” director Adam Shankman and former 20th Century Fox studio boss Bill Mechanic have been named producers of the Academy Awards, saying they hope to inject more fun and restore TV ratings glory to Hollywood’s biggest party.
Tuesday’s announcement marked the second year in a row that organizers have picked a pair of rookie Oscar producers to oversee the show. Last season’s Oscars were produced by filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark.
Oscar organizers are trying to put more razzle-dazzle into the show, whose TV ratings generally have declined over the last two decades. Instead of the usual standup comic, the Oscars called on song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman to host the show this past year.
Mechanic and Shankman said they plan to build on the changes Condon and Mark brought to February’s Oscars, which tinkered with the way awards were presented and featured Broadway-style musical interludes.
“We’re hoping to bring it the highest ratings in years, and we’re hoping every academy member thinks it’s the best show in years,” said Mechanic, whose tenure at Fox included a co-production with Paramount on blockbuster Oscar champ “Titanic” from 1997, when the awards had their all-time best TV audience.
Some years, the Oscars have dragged on for more than four hours, resembling a ponderous exercise in self-worship by Hollywood royalty. Shankman and Mechanic said they want to deliver a show that plays to mainstream audiences that have been relying on big studio flicks for an emotional lift during economic hard times.
“I personally want to kick up the funny a little bit,” Shankman said. “Movies are an invaluable source of entertainment during a very tough time in our country’s history. Since entertainment is what we’re selling, we want to celebrate that aspect and not just have it be that we’re sitting around congratulating ourselves and patting ourselves on the back.”
Scheduled for March 7, the Oscars already have undergone a major makeover. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved its honorary Oscars, often a long-winded affair that bogs down the ceremony, to a separate event in November.
And in the biggest change in decades, the academy doubled the number of best-picture nominees from five to 10. Academy overseers hope that might open the top category to a wider range of films, including commercial pictures that might draw in more TV viewers.
While Mechanic and Shankman said that could bring more critical respect to big box-office films, the best-picture choices are in the hands of the academy’s roughly 6,000 voting members.
“Since we’re not picking the movies, we’ll deal with whatever deck we’re dealt,” Mechanic said.
Still to come is selecting the Oscar host, a decision Mechanic and Shankman will make in consultation with the academy and ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars.
Mechanic will be reporting to one of his former employees, academy President Tom Sherak, who was an executive under Mechanic at 20th Century Fox.
“I’ve known Bill for many years, so it’s like putting Oscar in the care of a dear friend,” Sherak said.
During Mechanic’s years at 20th Century Fox, the studio’s releases and co-productions included such Oscar winners and nominees as “Braveheart,” “The Full Monty” and “Cast Away.”
Mechanic now is chairman and chief executive officer of production company Pandemonium Films. His producing credits include the 2005 thriller “Dark Water” and this year’s animated tale “Coraline.”
Shankman is no newcomer to the Oscars. The choreographer whose directing credits include Jennifer Lopez’s “The Wedding Planner” and Adam Sandler’s “Bedtime Stories” was on stage at the 1989 Oscars as a dancer for best-song winner “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid.”
“I was one of Paula Abdul’s ‘Under the Sea’ pirates,” Shankman said. “The last time I was at the Oscars, I was in Lycra, with a pirate hat on.”