Of all the scenarios the Oscars could have drawn up, the one it's currently in — losing a producer and, possibly, a host 15 weeks before the show — has to be near the bottom of the list, just ahead of the Kodak Theatre roof caving in.
On Tuesday, Brett Ratner resigned from the gig because of a gay slur (he noted in a post-screening question-and-answer session that "rehearsal is for fags"). Host Eddie Murphy's status, meanwhile, remains a question mark. He could remain on board, though Ratner, who collaborated with the actor on "Tower Heist," was a big reason Murphy was involved in the first place. (Don Mischer, the live-event veteran who was producing with Ratner, is staying, but it would be highly unusual not to pair him with a veteran filmmaker.)
So where does the academy of motion picture arts and sciences go from here?
The question is one of philosophy as much as personality. The academy brought on Ratner to shake things up. “ 'You love comedy. You love to laugh, and we want to bring entertainment value and comedy to this show,' " is what the academy's Tom Sherak told Ratner when he was coming aboard, according to the director. But shaking up is not what any group normally does after a scandal like this, let alone a conservative group like the academy.
But they also can't retreat too far. New academy chief Dawn Hudson has a mandate, and an intention, to spiff up the telecast. And there's the ever-present pressure to boost the ratings, which have been sag-sag-saggy in recent years. Conservative won't fly.
Back in the day, this might have been about the time that someone in the academy’s offices said to ring Gil Cates, the veteran producer who captained 14 telecasts. Cates, sadly, died last week.
If Murphy does bow out, there are options. Billy Crystal, always a sentimental favorite, has said he’s available. And if ever there was a time to call on Neil Patrick Harris, this is it. As Tony and Emmy viewers know, he’s the most capable award-show host who's never been offered the Oscar gig.
As for producers, wags and pundits were tossing out names as events unfolded Tuesday: Ryan Murphy, Brian Grazer (who's worked with Eddie Murphy before), Laurence Mark, Mark Burnett, Judd Apatow (hey, if it's comedy they want).
But there's an even peskier question: Who's to say that these producers, or any others, would want the job? Producing the Oscars is hard work, oft-scrutinized, rarely praised. And you'd be coming in after a scandal, and with just a few months to prepare.
In that regard, at least, Ratner may be right: There won't be a lot of time for rehearsal.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Brett Ratner. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters.