Oscar meltdown: Who's to blame?
I guess it's time for a do-over. With Oscar producer Brett Ratner and Oscar host Eddie Murphy both having made hasty exits from the upcoming Academy Awards telecast, the Motion Picture Academy has a vexing dilemma on its hands.
Having been burned by Ratner, who was toast after the academy got an earful of his raunchy interview with Howard Stern on Sirius XM, should academy president Tom Sherak and chief executive Dawn Hudson err on the side of caution, hiring an old-fashioned Hollywood producer who can deliver a host of A-list talent for the show? Or should they throw caution to the wind and find someone who could breathe some new life into the aging Oscar telecast, which was the plan behind their wooing of Ratner in the first place.
After all, the fundamental plan was a good one. The Oscars are long overdue for a face-lift. The flaw in hiring Ratner was, ahem, Ratner himself, not what he represented. The big question, with barely three months left before the show's Feb. 26 airdate, is whether a top-flight producer can be found who isn't already in the middle of prepping, shooting or overseeing post-production on a film. After all, the producers with the best talent relationships are usually the producers who are working 24-7.
Needless to say, before the academy jumps into the pool again, it should be time for some soul searching and post-fiasco analysis. As in: What went wrong and why? With Ratner, the academy has no one to blame but itself. If anyone had made even a few phone calls, they could have figured out that Ratner was immature, in love with the limelight and in need of a full-time crisis manager.
As it turns out, what sank Ratner wasn't his flippant remark about rehearsals "being for fags." He could've survived the fallout from that with an earnest round of apologies. It was his sex talk on the Stern show, which made it clear to the academy that it'd blundered in picking someone who couldn't be left alone near a microphone for two minutes without potentially causing a new uproar.
Once Ratner departed, it was only a matter of time -- less than 24 hours, as it turns out -- before Murphy flew the coop as well. It was Ratner who persuaded Murphy to host the show. Even though the academy was wary of Murphy, in light of his previous escapades -- like leaving the Oscars 30 minutes into the show when the supporting actor vote didn't go his way -- Ratner assured everyone that he would be there to make sure Murphy arrived on time for rehearsals and didn't stray from the straight and narrow.
Most organizations, after assessing the fallout from these departures, would take the stance of once burned, twice shy. It will probably be hard for the academy to resist making a conservative producer pick. If Jerry Weintraub is available, his phone may already be ringing. If not, the academy could go after a producer with previous Oscar experience, such as Joe Roth, who, like Weintraub, has a wealth of long-standing talent relations.
But if anyone were asking me for advice, I'd lobby for a fresh face, someone who still can deliver star talent, but who has the burning desire to redesign the show with an eye toward creating some serious buzz with younger TV viewers. It's not time to bring back Billy Crystal. It's time to re-invent the Oscars. Instead of always keeping the focus on the podium at center stage, why not hire a couple of great young cinematographers, give them mini-cams and let them roam freely backstage, shooting candid, informal star chit-chat that could be beamed out live between each major presentation onstage.
I know a couple of producers who'd still love to get their hands on the show, as long as the academy is willing to embrace a few of their innovative ideas. After all, when Hudson arrived at the academy after running Film Independent, we all assumed her mandate -- having been an outsider -- was to shake things up. Just because the first experiment went awry shouldn't make her wary of trying another one. At this stage in the Oscars' development, playing it safe is not an option. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
-- Patrick Goldstein
Photos: Oscar statuette, producer Brett Ratner (Credit: EPA), Eddie Murphy, and academy president Tom Sherak. Credit: Getty Images