Saving Oscar from Suicide

March 5, 2005

by Burt Prelutsky


Charles Dudley Warner claimed that everybody talked about the weather, but that nobody did anything about it. He could have said the same about the Academy Awards, but, then, he never met me.

Each time I watch the Oscars, I find myself sympathizing with my old friend Gil Cates. Gil, a very nice man, has somehow got stuck producing this elaborate wake year after year. I donít know if he has bad karma or just a bad agent. I also donít know how much theyíre paying him. What I do know is that itís not nearly enough.

The TV network wants to draw a huge audience, preferably composed entirely of 18-35 year olds, so that they can charge sponsors an arm and a leg to advertise. The motion picture industry also wants that same huge, young, audience because they have all that product they want to promote. The problem is that the movies young people are interested in are not the ones that get nominated, unless itís for visual effects, sound editing, or best animated feature. At the same time, the movies that score nominations in the major categories Ė movies such as ďMillion Dollar Baby,Ē ďAviatorĒ and ďRayĒ Ė appeal to an older demographic, people who donít want to spend three hours watching and listening to Chris Rock. Therein lies the annual dilemma.

Unlike some other old geezers, I didnít think Rock was the worst of the Oscar hosts. How quickly some people have forgotten Whoopi Goldberg and David Letterman! Rock merely served to remind us how much we all miss Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. What would I do with the Oscarcast if Mr. Cates wisely stepped aside and handed the reins over to me? For openers, Iíd stop trying to ride two horses headed off in opposite directions. So long as serious, mature movies are going to be nominated, the MTV audience isnít going to be tuning in. No, not even if Britney Spears and Paris Hilton emceed the event in tandem. So Iíd forget about trying to woo a young audience with a hip young host. All that does is alienate the older folks who tune in for the glamour, and because they actually have a rooting interest in the competition. Itís simply a mix that doesnít work.

Next, I would get over the idea that the host has to be a comic. Just because Bob Hope was funny, thereís no reason on earth that the ringmaster has to crack jokes. If Bing Crosby had emceed the event for 20 years, would every subsequent host have to be a crooner?

On top of everything else, the show, as the Academy is always reminding us, goes out around the world. In most countries, I dare say, the one-liners, even if they were amusing, wouldnít be understood. All those millions of foreign viewers never heard of the Gap. And as for Banana Republic, thatís where a lot of them live, not where they shop.

If I were running things, Iíd put an end to those lame monologues. Itís an awards show. People who tune in want to see what the stars are wearing and what they all look like, post-Botox and plastic surgery. If they need jokes, theyíll stick around for an hour or two after the show is over and get their fill from Jay Leno. Besides, heís got better writers.

Next, Iíd hire a host who had made his mark in the movies and who was bright enough to make an amusing ad lib if the occasion presented itself. Instead of trolling at the comedy clubs, Iíd approach the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Judith Dench, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Michael Caine, Annette Bening, Meryl Streep, Michael Douglas, and Sean Connery.

Unless the folks at ABC and at the Academy wake up to the fact that they canít hope to have it both ways, trying to snag both the kids and their grandparents, Iím afraid poor Gil Cates will continue to find himself stuck between a Chris Rock and a hard place.

Burt Prelutsky