SNAP OUT OF IT
How to Fix the Terrible, Broken Oscars
The 88th annual Academy Awards, hosted by Chris Rock, received mixed reviews as well as the lowest ratings since 2008. Here’s how to fix the uneven, terribly long ceremony.
Marlow: So, the Oscars went down and at least ratings-wise, was a dud with just 34.3 million viewers—the lowest numbers in eight years, since Jon Stewart hosted in 2008. Quite predictably, the right-wing demagogues over at Fox News hated everything about the ceremony, from Chris Rock’s incendiary monologue to Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change plea/acceptance speech to the Joe Biden cameo. But they’re reactionary hacks.
Kevin: I’m dying to see what the drop-off was after Chris Rock’s monologue was over. I feel like you could hear the collective “click” of the world changing the channel as soon as it was over. How he’d address #OscarsSoWhite was all that most of us were tuning in for.
Marlow: I enjoyed how divisive and raw Chris Rock’s opening monologue was. It’s an impossible task, broaching these subjects during the Oscars. For one, nobody says the word fuck better than Rock so he was hamstrung, but censorship issues aside, the mere optics of the Academy Awards can come off strange: a black host performing race jokes in front of a complicit, mostly-white audience. Rock’s female blind spot aside—there’s nothing wrong with #AskHerMore, it represents a very real problem vis-à-vis the male gaze—and the travesty that was the Stacey Dash cameo, I thought he did a commendable job. The biggest problems with the Oscars remain how unendurable it is after the first 20 minutes, how terribly long the whole ordeal is, and how many of the winners are egregious…
…So how do we fix it?
Kevin: How do we fix the Oscars? Honestly, we just stop trying to fix it.
The Oscars are long and boring, with 3/4 of awards given out (Best Live-Action Short, Best Sound Design, etc.) wholly uninteresting to a single viewer. Confusingly over the years, producers have tried to remedy that endless middle stretch of the show by counterintuitively padding it. More presenter bits! More montages! More interpretative dances and tributes! All these distractions are supposed to keep our attention through the less interesting awards, but in the end just makes the whole ceremony feel all the more interminable. (Plus, has anyone ever said, “You know what saved that show from being boring? The charming banter between Olivia Munn and Jason Sudeikis!”) This is an awards show that, to save itself, needs to go back to what it is: an awards show. Just hand out those categories as swiftly as possible so we can watch Leonardo DiCaprio talk about climate change and go to bed.
Marlow: I don’t think a straightforward just give ‘em the awards ceremony flies in this day and age where people’s attention is so divided and fleeting, and most people drink a glass of wine, eat a slice of pizza, pass out, and tune in the following day for the video bites and analysis. You need to fight for people’s consideration, and the way to do that is to both make the ceremony more VIP—that is, limit it to the actual acting/filmmaking talents to give it that aura of desirability, since half the people presenting nowadays have no business being there—and also switch up the format.
Kevin: I’m not saying to do away with bits altogether and turn the whole thing into a press conference. (Though, in my heart of hearts, I know that would save us all.) But I’m saying that a show that’s pushing four hours should be cut down to about two-and-a-half. Cutting the fat and speeding through those technical awards in the middle is how you do it, so that you make it back to the awards that are given to famous people without feeling like you’ve weathered your own harrowing Revenant to get there.
Marlow: Oh, I definitely agree on the 2.5-hour cut. Each year, the Oscars feels like a Director’s Cut with all the excised material thrown in, so we gotta trim all the fat—that includes limiting the craft awards’ acceptance speeches, doing a song medley instead of individual performances, and not having Dave Grohl (why?) play an interminable acoustic solo during the In Memoriam segment. The problem is that the Academy wants this thing to drag out as long as possible for the ratings and plethora of ads, but they need to reconcile this with how bloated the behemoth has become.
Now, for some practical changes. First, the idea that a stand-up comedian is the way to go as host has never passed muster. You need a showman who is both insider-y enough so that they’re in on the joke, and outsider-y enough so that they can have free rein to rip into the crowd (see: Bob Hope, Billy Crystal). In this respect, Stephen Colbert would be perfect. Second, take advantage of viral skits, and employ different A-list comedians to craft a single sketch (three or four total, three to five minutes in length) to run throughout the ceremony, from Jimmy Fallon, say, holding a lip sync-off with nominees to James Corden doing “Carpool Karoake” with nominees to Amy Schumer or Judd Apatow scripting a bit. Remember how great that Apatow-helmed bit was some years back of Pineapple Express co-stars Seth Rogen and James Franco getting stoned and cracking up to The Reader? More of that, please. The Academy needs to remember that this thing is primarily for the viewers at home, not the fancily dressed people in the crowd.
Kevin: Sure, that all sounds funny. But it’d be a headache to produce. It’s one thing convincing two-dozen A-listers to wear fancy dresses, walk across the stage, read a joke or two off a Teleprompter, and then go back to Instagramming from their seats. Low commitment, low risk of bombing. Wrangling anything more than that ain’t gonna be easy, especially with, year after year, snarky tweeters whining about how much the ceremony sucks. I don’t want to be difficult when I say that the Oscars are kind of unfixable. But we should stop expecting anything more than what they are: a long ceremony that gives awards to movies none of us have seen and film technicians we’ve never heard of. Don’t care if Spotlight beats The Revenant? Don’t know what cinematography is, let alone care who’s the best at it? Don’t watch the Oscars!
Marlow: I’m not really concerned with how much of a headache this thing would be to produce, it’s the Oscars! And late-night comedians wrangle all kinds of A-list talent for sketches all the time on short notice—Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Mean Tweets’ bit, for instance. They have three whole months to produce this thing between announcing the host and the night in question (Rock was announced on Nov. 30), and that is plenty of time for the gatekeepers of comedy, the Judd Apatows and Jimmy Fallons of the world, to wrangle talent for three-minute sketches here and there. Also, I don’t think the viewing experience should be more exclusive, but should have elements that appeal to the everyday viewer who hasn’t had the time (or money) to see all the Best Picture nominees, but perhaps has a movie that they’re really passionate about. While the talent should be more exclusive (Priyanka Chopra? Olivia Munn?) to make the proceedings more attractive to those tuning in, the viewing experience should remain democratic. It’s supposed to be a celebration of film, but in recent years the final two hours seem downright funereal.
Kevin: I don’t know. I’m just not sold that viral videos is the cure to the boring Oscars problem. Last night had a ton of pre-taped bits, and still here we are complaining about how bad the show and wondering how to fix it. The truth is that every Oscars has its fair share of standout sketches, or memorable monologues, or show-stopping musical numbers—but they’re all still boring. During a three-plus hour telecast, 30 or so cumulated minutes of comedy and musical theatre can’t compete with the three hours of speeches and presentations that have to be part of the awards show…because it’s an awards show. Sure, the best and most memorable Oscar telecasts are the ones in which those big “moments” are extra funny, extra moving, and extra spectacular—save for Rock’s monologue and Lady Gaga’s performance, the other bits last night were admittedly meh. But they’ll never be enough to counteract an onslaught of speeches. For my money, the biggest flaw with Sunday’s ceremony was that the speeches just weren’t that good. But there’s no real controlling that, is there?
Marlow: I don’t think viral videos are the be-all and end-all, but more curated content by talented comedians to hold the audience at home’s attention during the lulls is a good start. And I don’t think three hours of speeches and presentations are a necessary requirement. Like the Governors Awards, there can be an additional satellite presentation grouping several of the more minor categories that are shown during the Oscars telecast to cut down on the timing issue. There’s no controlling the quality of the speeches, either, and I think a lot of the suspense has been sucked out of the Oscars due to the sheer length of the awards season now, and the number of outlets covering it. We’re hit with a deluge of Oscar talk from September to February, and by the time the ceremony comes around, the winners are mostly sure things and everyone’s just damn sick of hearing about ‘em. The whole awards season needs to be shrunk by a month or two, and they should place date restrictions on the campaign period to reduce the six-month media blitzkrieg. It’ll certainly make our jobs easier, too. Everybody wins!