Like many people who work in or cover the movie business, I've been part of countless conversations over the years -- in the months leading up to the telecast and in the halls where they take place -- about what's wrong with the Oscars. Or, in more charitable but not-fooling-anyone terms, how they can be "improved."
If you follow award season, you know the refrain. In its (understandably difficult) attempt to strike a balance between the industry types in the room and the movie fans in their living rooms, the Oscars often fall prey to bloatedness, self-seriousness, out of touch-ness, and lack of YouTube-ableness. Those pesky sagging ratings that pundits often focus on? They're merely a symptom.
But until entering the Beacon Theatre in New York for the Neil Patrick Harris-hosted Tony Awards, which I did as a reporter Sunday night, I didn't realize just how myriad the Oscars problems were. Nor had I ever seen firsthand the mechanics of a well-done award show or how enjoyable that show could be -- yes, even one that had to balance the needs of the room with the desires of the TV viewer.
TIMELINE: Academy Awards through the years
The host is, of course, a big part of that. But more on that in a minute.
There are, first, some very simple fixes the Oscars could look to. The Academy Awards often get criticized for including too many technical kudos that most home viewers don't care about. Producers and the Motion Picture Academy say they need to make sure everyone feels included -- it is, after all, a night to honor the entire industry -- which leaves it larding up the show with less prominent prizes.
But the Tonys have come up with an elegant solution. They indeed give out many below-the-line awards during the three hours of the telecast -- they just don't televise them. Presenters present and winners accept during the commercial breaks. It's a win-win. Nominees still get the satisfaction and thrill of hearing thousands of their peers applauding them on the industry's biggest night, and often sandwiched between the biggest prizes. But the casual viewer at home doesn't see any of it.
Instead, he or she is treated to a leaner show filled with things he or she cares about. This approach also gives the ceremony more energy, since people in the theater are less likely to get up and wander to the bar or bathroom during the commercial breaks.