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Suggestions for an Improved Oscar-cast

ABC and the Academy are bracing for anemic tune-in for Sunday’s Oscar telecast. Of course, the Academy may only have itself to blame, having snubbed The Dark Knight, which has grossed nearly $1 billion in international box office since its release last summer, for more, ahem, modest earners Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk and The Curious Case of BenjaminButton. While Dark Knight has grossed more than $533 million domestically, Benjamin Button is the only nominee that has taken in more than $100 million.

And since box office gross and Oscar-cast interest goes hand in hand, last year’s historic low, a paltry 31.2 million viewers, could indeed be breached this year.

ABC is earnestly trying to whip up some excitement. The affable Hugh Jackman, this year’s Oscar host, is promising lots of “surprises” in promos airing relentlessly on ABC. According to the Los Angeles Times, organizers have quietly asked publicists of presenters to have their clients skip the red carpet in order to save some surprises, sartorial and otherwise, for the show itself. But how realistic is that in narcissistic Hollywood, a town that never met a red carpet it didn’t want to linger on?

Instead, the Academy should take a cue from cable news and structure the show like a breaking news event adding graphics, the news crawl, split screens and HD extras including my favorite, the picture-in-picture feature.

The news crawl could offer newsy tidbits about the presenter appearing on-screen: “Angelina Jolie shoots down rumor that she’ll adopt four of Octuplet Mom’s babies.”

The picture-in-picture feature could be especially useful in keeping the notoriously bloated show moving along at something approaching a brisk pace by enabling simultaneous presentations of who-cares awards like best makeup and sound engineering. The split screen could be used to needle Spanx-wearing celebs with paparazzi shots of them sans Oscar-night fortifications. (Too mean? Think of it as a public service; a reality check for ordinary women dejectedly wondering how they’ll ever measure up, or down as it were.) And finally: thought bubbles, a la VH1’s late, lamented Behind the Music. It would bring some much-needed irreverence to the stilted proceedings. The ubiquitous thought bubble for presenters forced to read lame jokes from the Teleprompter: “Who writes this s—?”