Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of AwardsLine.
Oscar telecast producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron know their stuff when it comes to putting on a show. With huge musical successes in movies (Chicago, Hairspray, Footloose), TV (The Music Man, Cinderella), and Broadway (Promises Promises, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), they have the chops to pull off the film industry’s biggest night of the year, though it has sometimes proved a pitfall for other producers. It can be challenging when the Academy mandates that valuable airtime goes to all 24 categories, including sound mixers, makeup and hairstylists, and producers of documentary short subjects, to name a few. But that doesn’t faze this veteran producing pair who say they started assembling the show’s elements from the day they got the job in late August.
“We certainly are going to be celebrating the nominees and winners like a regular Oscar show, but they are fitting into the design of the show that we’ve created, so there’s going to be an enormous amount of entertainment,” Zadan says, pointing to the 50 years of James Bond tribute they have announced, which won’t be a reunion of the actors who played 007 despite rampant media speculation. “It’s something else, something very unique and very exciting but no, we’re not getting the Bonds together.”
Among other entertainment spots planned is a tribute to the movie musicals of the past decade, including this year’s best picture contender Les Misérables, Dreamgirls (I hear with Jennifer Hudson performing), and the producers’ own best picture champ, Chicago. And singing on an Oscar show for the first time in 36 years will be Barbra Streisand. My bet is she’ll sing “The Way We Were” in honor of its late composer Marvin Hamlisch, though the producers are not offering specifics on that one.
Both producers say they’re eagerly anticipating seeing first-time host Seth MacFarlane take the stage. “He has great charm. He embodies kind of a post-millennium host in that tradition of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, and Billy Crystal. He is the next step in terms of making the show current,” Meron says about the reason why the Family Guy and Ted creator got the job.
In fact, MacFarlane’s oversized teddy bear Ted has already confirmed an appearance on the telecast alongside his costar Mark Wahlberg. In addition to being a first-time host, MacFarlane is a first-time nominee as cowriter of Ted’s main title song, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend.” Norah Jones will sing it on the show, as the producers have also decided to bring back the tradition of having all five nominated tunes sung live. Among them, pop superstar Adele will be singing the hit nominee “Skyfall” and performing on television for the first time since she swept the Grammys a year ago.
Don Mischer, 15-time Emmy winner and a producer of the Oscars for the past two years, is returning to direct. “If you can put entertainment around the awards and maintain the dignity of the Academy, or put some humor and a little bit of irreverence around it, you can make it more entertaining, and it makes for a better show. I think (Zadan and Meron) are really on track to do that,” Mischer says.
Academy president Hawk Koch, who hired the producing pair, says they have gotten rid of a lot of what he calls “shoe leather.” “We are going to present all the categories, but between Craig and Neil and I, we have found a way to move it along,” he says.
There’s added pressure this year because of the well-reviewed performance of Golden Globes hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, which help push ratings up 24% compared to last year. The Academy certainly does not want to come up short in comparisons with that NBC show.
As for MacFarlane, he has a good attitude even though reviews of his “performance” hosting the Academy nominations announcement with Emma Stone were decidedly mixed. Some Academy members thought he went too far with his jokes, others thought it wasn’t appropriate to mock nominees just as they were becoming known for the first time. “It’s a ruthless bit of scrutiny you’re under, so I’m not going to think about that. I’m just worrying about making it as funny as it can be and as fun as it can be,” MacFarlane said shortly after the nomination announcement.
For Zadan and Meron, however, it’s all about putting on the best show possible. In preparation, Meron says he watched 40 previous Oscar telecasts. He has great respect for the producers and what they tried to do. “What I learned is that (past) producers of the show really took chances and shook things up all through the course of Oscar history,” he explains. “It really is a great tradition to be a part of.”