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Note to Oscar producers: Seth Meyers could offer some lessons

July 15, 2010 |  3:16 pm

Seth Meyers
New Oscar producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer are, as we type, combing through a wide range of candidates to host this year's telecast. But after last night's ESPYs, there is a new high standard to live up to.

The ESPYs? High standards?

If you're one of the 308.9 million Americans who didn't watch the annual ESPN self-congratulatory highlight reel awards show Wednesday night, you actually missed something funny. Well, at least a few funny things.

Subversive hasn't been a trait one associates with ESPN's ode to sports and itself, but host Seth Meyers came out firing at this year's show, in which the telecast returned to a live format. In his opening monologue, the "Saturday Night Live" personality and chief writer took aim at more than a few sacred cows, mocking one of ESPN's most profitable sports franchises ("give it up for Tiger Woods -- if you haven't already") in a way you rarely see anyone do on the network.

And Meyers ripped off some generally good lines. ("This is where sports and entertainment come together. It's like a Kardashian sister's bedroom," he said even as the camera cut to one of said sisters' exes, Reggie Bush.) And most notably, Meyers took aim at the network for its choice to air  "a super-boring hour of television" with the LeBron James decision special. ("Did it really need to be an hour? Look, somebody time me. Ready? 'Miami.' What was that, a second?")

Tweaking the institution you're there to celebrate doesn't always play well at an awards show -- see: Jon Stewart's Oscar hosting in 2006 -- but Meyers' bits worked because he punctured the self-seriousness that can afflict programs such as the ESPYs and the Oscars.

Meyers also brought in many of his own writers from "SNL" (the ratio of house writers and host ones on the ESPYs can vary; this one tilted more toward the host), a variable that will hopefully be a consideration when Mischer and Cohen make their hiring choice. There are plenty of well-known comedic personalities out there, but the ones who come with a strong writing team are fewer and further between. As for the host, it doesn't necessarily have to be Meyers -- though, come to think of it, you could do worse than a comedian with the ability to pull off some pretty sharp topical jokes and carry a large room in the process. (And yes, he'd do better than Betty White).

Speaking of the ESPYs and the movies, one of the more inspired bits of the night came when Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, stars of this month's "Dinner for Schmucks,' riffed on the James decision with an extended off-stage interview in which Carell deadpanned to Rudd that he had come to his own decision (that he was leaving Chili's for Outback Steakhouse).

Paramount didn't pay for the piece -- and the movie, consequently, wasn't really flogged -- but the sketch did get audiences to see the pair's chemistry and at least subliminally think about the two of them together. And compared to the shameless promos at the MTV Movie Awards, the ESPYs bit was downright subtle. There are, it tuns out, puffy awards shows that the Oscars can take its cues from.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Seth Meyers during his ESPYs opening monologue. Credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters


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