A bad week for the Oscars

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: A bad week for the Oscars – Los Angeles Loyolan.

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that this has not been the best week for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The entity, which holds the Oscars every year, managed to lose both its co-producer and host in the span of 48 hours. It has also managed to replace both positions in a similarly short period of time, albeit with much safer choices.

Looking back, it wasn’t really the smartest decision to put noted fratboy-type director Brett Ratner at the helm of the most prestigious awards show in Hollywood. While he would have certainly shaken things up – something the Oscars desperately needs to do after a few years of poor shows – he’s also not one for tact, something necessary to not embarrass an entire institution that has been around for 80 years.

But if you asked most people who they expected to screw up first, they would have passed right over Ratner and gone to his choice for host Eddie Murphy. The one-time Oscar nominee who infamously walked out when he was passed over for “Little Miss Sunshine” star Alan Arkin, is nothing if not a hothead and a risk. He could have been hilarious as a host, but that was all provided he actually got to the big stage on the day of.

Turns out Murphy won’t even get the chance to make a fool of himself. According to multiple sources, Ratner used a homophobic slur when describing how he isn’t fond of rehearsals on-set. He then followed up this disastrous decision by talking about sleeping with comedienne Olivia Munn on the G4 channel’s “Attack of the Show” program and making crude jokes about starlet Lindsay Lohan on “The Howard Stern Show.” Eventually, Academy members, including president Tom Sherak, decided that Ratner was too much of a risk to have around and asked him to resign. The director acquiesced, and with him went the show’s host.

Murphy never seemed particularly enthralled with the idea of hosting the Oscars – to many, it seemed like a personal favor to Ratner, who directed him in the recent movie “Tower Heist.” Once Ratner left, it took less than 24 hours for Murphy to follow suit.

The Academy, left in a pickle, quickly appointed dependable producer Brian Grazer to take the reins, and he almost immediately brought actor and comedian Billy Crystal into the fold. Crystal, who has hosted the Oscars several times before, had indicated his interest earlier this year and is seen by Hollywood as a safe choice.

While the Academy’s quick fix to a potentially catastrophic situation has to be applauded, one wonders why they weren’t ready with a new helmer and host as soon as they asked Ratner to resign. Clearly, Murphy wasn’t going to stick around. This isn’t his game, and without his friend directing him, why would he want to continue in a thankless job?

Personally, I was rooting for “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris to take over as emcee for the evening. The openly gay actor has shown promise as a host of award shows like the Tonys and the Emmys. He even appeared to perform the opening musical number at the Oscars two years ago. Perhaps producers thought casting a gay man as host to replace the choice of a producer who had just recently used a homophobic slur would read a bit too on-the-nose to the general public.

Crystal is a fine choice, and Grazer is a professional, so the entire thing should run smoothly. But aren’t the best award shows – nay, the best live television events – the ones where things don’t run smoothly? Is the nation still talking about the Black Eyed Peas’s sleepy-but-professional halftime show at the Super Bowl last year? No. Is wardrobe malfunction still a widely used term in our society after the Justin Timberlake/Janet Jackson halftime show debacle? Absolutely.

Safe is great for the Academy, which wants to maintain respectability, but it’s awful for a television show. It’s boring, and it hemorrhages the audience every year. And while the Academy itself could survive poor ratings, the show would cease to exist.

Respectable is all well and good, and especially important in the fallout of Ratnergate. But Grazer and Crystal would be wise to think about how to make the show more exciting. The Oscars are counting on it.


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