It may still be early for newly anointed Oscars director-producer Don Mischer to know exactly what kind of show he and fellow producer Bruce Cohen will stage.
But one thing Mischer knows for certain -- contrary to reports, the Oscars definitely will not move from Feb. 27 to January this year. And Betty White likely will be involved in the telecast (but perhaps not as host).
Earlier today, we caught up with Mischer, who as a producer of a live television event has a job akin to rustling a giant herd of unpredictable cattle (while 20 or 30 million people watch your every lasso). You've produced so many big events that in some ways this must just feel like another assignment. Does it feel different to you?
When you work overseas, as I have sometimes, you understand how the Oscars are a world event, and that increases the expectations. The Oscars is one of the few shows that are appointment television. It’s also a marriage of film and television, so the expectations are higher because of that. And there’s a lot to consider. First and foremost we have to honor the standards of the academy. We also have to do something that expands the interest of viewers, but without jeopardizing the first thing. There’s a tradition you need to uphold. A show like the Oscars cannot be entirely ratings-driven.
There’s always talk about how the formula can be changed. What kind of changes are you looking at?
It’s still a little early for that. I’m taking a stack of shows home this weekend. I’m going to do a content analysis of what’s worked and what hasn’t the past 10 years, how you can expand and make it all more appealing. There are a lot of things you hear from the people in the business. You hear things like "ratings fall off when songs are sung." We hear the same about dance numbers. But we want to see if that’s true. And we have the benefit of going back and studying minute-by-minute ratings, which we’re going to do.
Oscar producers are usually treated as the primary factor in a show's popularity. But so many things are out of your control. How much do you feel you can do to influence ratings?
The two things that make a show successful is how familiar your nominees are, and what people say if they're fortunate enough to win. And neither of those things you can control. But there are things we can control. We can broaden the motion pictures and include the work of films that haven't been nominated. And when you do a show like this you have historical elements, and so you have the opportunity to do great things with the films from the past.
There have been some reports that the board of governors is considering a move to January for this year. Is that something you’ve been apprised of?
When I read that in Nikki Finke’s column I was completely surprised. I do know that it would not be happening for the show we’re doing. If you want to make that kind of change you have to plan for that a year and a half in advance. I understand why the academy might want to consider it. But it’s not going to change anything this year.
Some people would look at this job and say it’s just too much pressure, and the only time anyone notices you is when something goes wrong. What’s the appeal for you?
There’s no question we feel the pressure, Some people say we’re addicted, or we’re stress junkies. Maybe we are. There’s nothing like that feeling that the clock is ticking down and you’re sitting in the truck, and then suddenly it’s time, and everybody gets quiet. That’s when I get calm. I’m much more uptight two weeks ahead of time when I feel we’re not on top of everything, when a major presenter can drop out or a piece of film isn’t ready.
Do you ever have nightmares about all the things that could go wrong at an event you’re producing?
Right before the Prince halftime show (at the 2009 Super Bowl) we were dreading rain, and I was terribly afraid. I had dreams the night before that it would rain, and his two dancers, called the Twinz, in their 8-inch-high heels would fall over. Would we cut to a wide shot? Bring out a stretcher? You worry about all that. You worry about everything. You worry about earthquakes.
Probably the most scrutiny Oscar producers get is over host. How much thought have you given to that aspect?
It's the No. 1 priority. We're going to start discussions on Monday. All options are open. And I'm sure we’ll get a big push for Betty White. I can feel it coming.Would you take her?
"I think she'd be great in some capacity. [Laughs.] I don't know if she'd want to host the whole show."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Betty White at the MTV Movie Awards, with Bradley Cooper looking on. Credit: Christopher Polk / Getty Images
RECENT AND RELATED:
With Cohen and Mischer, a new kind of Oscars producing team
Oscars show has no sense of timing
Event television scores again with Oscar ratings