Folks are buzzing about the Academy Awards quite a lot this week. Not because of any of the films, stars, or filmmakers, that might be nominated, but because of the choice of hosts. Actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway will co-host the venerable show hoping to provide some youth and looks to the usually borderline geriatric and overly botoxed program.
You know what, I'm not going to bad mouth the decision.
I know, a lot of you are expecting a smug know-it-all bastard like me to snark on them hiring two young good looking people, probably because they are young and good looking.
But I won't.
Reason #1. They have signed up to do a really shitty job. I'll get back to that in a minute.
Reason #2. Who else are you going to give the job too?
Think about it, from the moment they got the job, to about a day or two after the end of the show their lives will not be their own. They have sessions with the writers, producers, rehearsals, having Bruce Vilanch crash on your couch griping at you about how "Whoopi would have made it work!" and let's not forget the costume changes.
If Miss Hathaway is one scintilla less than some bitchy internet commentator's vision of glam-perfection, and have a fresh gown after every commercial break, she'll never hear the end of it. Plus, if the slightest bead of sweat appears on James Franco's collar, then he's on the same boat. I remember when someone asked Roger Moore what was the hardest part of filming the Bond movies, and his answer didn't involve stunts, fights, or pitching woo to an actress with a taste for onions. No, he said the toughest part was filming the tuxedo scenes. If the jacket had a wrinkle, then it was a complete change over, Bond must always appear perfect, and so must the hosts of the Oscars.
Then there are the reviews. Face it, it's not an easy job. In the 1990s everyone wanted Letterman to do the job, then he did the job, and after that even Letterman thought Letterman should never do it again.
Both Franco and Hathaway are taking a huge risk by taking on this job. If they blow it, their careers could take a severe shellacking.
Now we come to the question of who do you hire to host such an event. First thought is to hire a comedian and / or television talk show host. However that's not always the best idea.
I mentioned Letterman, who tried to turn the Oscar telecast into a super-sized version of his Late Show. Chris Rock was snippy and hostile. trying to be edgy in an edgeless event, and proving to the world that Sean Penn can't get a joke if his life depended on it. Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen Degeneres were ultimately forgettable. John Stewart came off as smug and stand-offish.
They forgot the key rules to hosting the Oscars, rules established by the people who set the gold standard for the job, I'm talking about Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, and Billy Crystal.
The rules are:
1. THE SHOW IS ABOUT THE MOVIES NOT ABOUT YOU!
Bob Hope only intruded into the show with the quick line: "It's time for the Academy Awards, or as we call it at my house: Passover" and then pretty much stuck to the movies and the nominees.
Billy Crystal, during his heyday as host, had a very specific method to his hosting. He acted as if he was a huge movie-fan who somehow stumbled his way into the center of the movie universe. He became the goofy figure of self deprecating fun getting to play among the beautiful celebrities. He made himself into the viewer at home, he was the embodiment of Rule #2:
2. YOU MUST PLAY TO THE AUDIENCE AT HOME NOT IN THE THEATER!
The people in the theater are there on business, not to be entertained. The audience at home are the ones who need to be entertained because without them, there is no industry to support the Oscars. The people in the theater are there to get their mugs on TV, win awards, hold it over the losers, or make the sort of business connections needed to keep their jobs.
3. YOU HAVE TO KEEP IT MOVING!
The show is, at best, 3-4 hours long. Every winner is going to want to speak as long as Fidel Castro on a caffeine bender, and use the podium as a soap-box to let the world know about the plight of the Saskatchewan seal population. When their mike is cut off and the orchestra kicks in it's the job of the host, to move in, make their segue, and move the hell out.
4. YOU HAVE TO BE QUICK ON YOUR FEET!
Never forget that the Oscars are a live telecast. That means that despite how professional and skilled the crew are, things are going to go wrong. A presenter is going to have a drug overdose in the bathroom, there's going to be a fight in the swag room, and the tape for the memorial reel will get scrambled in the control room and reach out to strangle a switch operator.
When these events happen, it falls on the host to cover, to do emergency award presentations, make a self deprecating joke to cover the crash of a falling light, and whatever it takes to keep the audience from discovering what a chaotic disaster the show is backstage.
This requires a quick mind, a sharp sense of humor, and grace under pressure. That's a rare quality to find in Hollywood these days when many stars have total meltdowns when they can't find their favorite comb.
The classic example was David Niven, who was hosting when a streaker came running across the stage as naked as the day he was born. Niven, didn't miss a beat and said something like: "This is a night for awards, not to display one's shortcomings."
So one has to ask oneself: "Who in Hollywood can do all that, and put up with all the crap?" There aren't many, and I'm going to hope that the producers made the right decision.
I'm going to wish the two of them good luck with this job. They are going to need it.
And by the way, a message to James Franco, SHAVE BEFORE THE SHOW!
And if you people think I wrote this piece as a cheap excuse to post pictures of Anne Hathaway, you are very wrong!
I have my integrity.
There isn't much of it, but it's there.