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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Oscars 2010

Outside the fact that Natalie Portman won for best actress and The King’s Speech surprised… no one by taking home the rest of the top tier awards from the 83rd Academy Awards, did anybody really care about the show?
Let me put it this way. From probably about 1990 through 2003, the Oscars were appointment television for me. Being who I am, it would not be a stretch to say that the Oscars were kind of like my Super Bowl or World Series. I loved the telecast and the ceremony because deep down, I wanted to eventually be up there on that stage, accepting an award.

Beyond 2003, I had pretty much accepted two things. I was never going to win an Oscar, let alone be nominated for one, and no one else in my household or immediate family actually cared enough about the awards to watch them with me. My wife placated me a few times but it’s a rather long and boring ceremony full of people getting up on stage and thanking a lot of people until they are forced to hurry up and talk over top of the orchestra.

Also, beyond 2003, I stopped going to the movies with any regularity that would indicate that I have any exposure to the movies that are being considered for nominations. The sad truth is that the last movie I saw in the theater was New Moon and I was dragged there by my wife out of spousal obligation and the contingency that she would go with me to a movie of my choice. That movie would have been Tron Legacy… and I still haven’t seen that and it’s March 2011.

Now, if I want to watch the Oscars, I record them on my DVR and I manage to strip away all the fluff and just get to the award presentations and a few select pieces of dialogue and other presentations. In fact, I managed to watch the entire telecast from Sunday night in an hour and a half. I could be called a poser for not taking in the entire experience, however I see myself as a pragmatist, sacrificing a little Hollywood magic for time sake. Let’s face it. The running gag is that ceremony takes too long.

I’ve gone on before about how to speed up the awards and drum up ratings.  This was two years ago. Since then, they went back to the format of having the opposite sex winner from the previous year give out the acting awards which is much nicer. The In Memoriam bit was nice, although Celine Dion causes involuntary convulsions and they still missed a bunch of people. (Peter Graves, Corey Haim, Gary Coleman, Maury Chakin, and others.) However, the new thing with having 10 films for best picture is still a crap shoot.

And speaking of crap, the hosting was off. I mean no disrespect. I give credit to Anne Hathaway for trying to hold it together but if felt like James Franco quit half way through and she sort of carried him the rest of the way. He seemed bored or tired or looking for an exit. I imagine that being first time hosts and not well known comedic talents, the writers did not give them a lot of material to riff on where hosts like Carson, Crystal, or Hope would have been quick to jump on something. For that matter, the only real huge thing of note was that Melissa Leo dropped the F bomb during her acceptance speech.

And for the love of God, I give the utmost respect to Kirk Douglas but he put the nail in the coffin on the timing during his bit. He was awesome but it’s like watching Dick Clark do the countdown. You respect him, you give him your attention, but you wish someone would have been nice enough to say, “Maybe you should sit this one out.”

I understand the whole point of getting a younger class of hosts. The whole point of having Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin hosting last year was to inject a younger demographic of viewer thanks to Baldwin’s 30 Rock street cred. And it worked. This year there was a lot of social media integration with twitter and other platforms in order to bridge the gap between those who sit and watch the show and those who sit and watch the show while surfing the web for Oscar updates.

It used to be a lot more important to me to watch the entire show. To me, the Oscars were part awards ceremony and part magical presentation. Think of whole backstage allure of the theater. What goes on in the wings and in the green room? I remember a few years ago there was a gauntlet the winners would run and there would be footage of them after their win talking about or adding additional footnotes to their speeches. With shows like 30 Rock and my guilty “gone too soon” pleasure of Studio 60, I am always interested in what makes a production run the way it does. Also, you need to have hosts that are comfortable making jokes, attract a built in audience as well as new ones, and have the ability to cause moments of sheer fun to occur.

Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson were great because they broke that fourth wall and told you things that were happening. After the Jack Palance push up bit, Billy would periodically come back and say, “Jack Palance just bungee jumped off the Hollywood sign.” We need that back.

In order to do that whole ‘capture the magic of Hollywood’ thing I propose a radical idea. I say the host of the 2011 Oscars should be…

Wait for it…

The Muppets

Ok, I must admit I have been knee deep in Muppetdom this past weekend. First of all, I’ve been trying to introduce my three year old to them outside of Sesame Street. Yes, those Muppets are educational and kid friendly but the other Muppets, from The Muppet Show and the films are where the real comedy gold lies.

Pepe the King Prawn on the Bonnie Hunt show from a few years back.

Here’s Pepe and Seymour the elephant telling a dumb joke with hysterical form.

Now, Pepe isn’t a best usage case because he’s one of the newest Muppets. But looking at the landscape of the Muppets I can see a huge area for win.

First of all, having Kermit host the awards gives you that gravitas of someone who can handle the duties of being host. The opening number could be the various Muppets dropped into the scenes of the movies adding hilarity, not to mention you could dust off the “Muppet Show Tonight” song. Who better to provide commentary on how well the show is going than Statler and Waldorf? Fozzie could be writing Kermit’s jokes and have some back stage moments with presenters. Scooter can handle the booth and call the show while Clifford could handle other duties with hosting and presenting. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem could be the orchestra, in full tuxedos, with Animal being the exception having his sleeves ripped off.

Rizzo and Gonzo could have a myriad of responsibilities that would lead to hilarity backstage. Piggy could be reporting backstage with winners. Pepe. Oooh, Pepe would be hysterical but I don’t know what he would do.

Seeing as how ABC broadcasts the Oscars and along with The Muppets, are properties of Disney it’s an easy relationship to make this happen. With Jason Segel writing the new movie which will air this year, that brings you your point of relevance to what’s happening today as well as your younger generation demographic. November is just three months from February and with home sales probably kicking in about then you have that on the minds of people watching.

Besides, nothing makes me laugh more than having a Muppet either binge inappropriate, reacting to something for laughs… which then grow to swell, or be abused. Having the Muppets exist in a real time environment, riffing and improving would be nuts. It’s just one of those absurd images that spark a memorable moment.

I may be hoping against hopes because to pull off this production you would have had to start a year ago in order to plan the design. I mean we all know that the Muppets are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a performer underneath a table or a masking, doing all the work. But I would want to have the magic not be broken. I would want the stage designed to conceal the performers as best they could, feeding the illusion. You have to design specific set pieces that allow for them to move around unseen but you could tape segments ahead of time to allow for performers to move to a new scene or at least exit without breaking character. The magic of The Muppets is steeped in best practices and I could envision a lot of ways to hide the “hands.”

Still, it would be a trip to see them pull this off and could be just what the Academy Awards need to bounce back into the graces of so many of us who remember the grandeur of the Oscars.   I'm not alone.  There's even a facebook page that I stumbled upon after thinking of this myself.

Will they succeed?   Ellafino.

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