At 7:53 p.m. on Oscar night, Ryan Seacrest slinked back to the Roosevelt Hotel, where his E! Live From the Red Carpet co-anchor Giuliana Rancic was stationed beside the swimming pool—looking, like the watching audience at home, that she may at any moment begin screaming out of boredom and bemusement.
“Was there a lot of green?” Seacrest asked of the red-carpet dresses Rancic and Co. had been analyzing for far too long, and far too laboriously, as if they were discussing the secrets of the Sphinx. Even if you liked fashion, you yearned for them to discuss anything else. Maybe toe fungus.
Also, Seacrest had been on the red carpet, right? He would know if his Green Oscars Gown Thesis had been proven right.
But this wasn’t an ordinary night on the red carpet for scandal-hit Seacrest, and he was likely grateful to be back at the hotel.
“There were legends on the red carpet and young people too,” he brightly reported to Rancic. But Tiffany Haddish had been his standout, “150 percent the whole way.”
“You did such a great job,” Rancic lied to her co-anchor.
Seacrest had not done a great job, he had done an excruciating one. If you want to know how excruciating, compare the flood of celebrities talking to ABC, compared to the trickle that stopped to speak to him. E!’s red-carpet show stop-started along for three terrible, painfully slow hours.
If you watched this strange mess on E!, congratulations: You have more strength than a Tough Mudder competitor. Unless it was intended as a piece of nihilistic performance art inspired by Samuel Beckett, it can be widely deemed to be a fail.
Seacrest was stationed more defiantly than he ever has been on the red carpet. Both E! and ABC, on which he co-anchors Live! with Kelly Ripa, are disregarding (or ignoring on-air at least) the controversy around allegations of sexual assault that are swirling around him, and what he did or didn’t do to former stylist Suzie Hardy.
An E! investigation completed on Feb. 1 “found insufficient evidence to support the claims against Seacrest and therefore could not be substantiated.” Seacrest strongly denies what he has been accused of. It is now essentially a he-said, she-said.
To find the Seacrest Oscars farrago painful isn’t to presume his guilt, it’s to question the wisdom of him and the networks that support him to put Seacrest squarely into public view when #MeToo and #TimesUp are the predominant cultural themes of the moment.
Seacrest and his supporters set him up for an exercise of personal power and prestige, rather than humiliation, thinking the latter would not befall him. It did. That says a lot about a certain amount of ego and arrogance on the part of Team Seacrest, especially as they were implicitly defying the principles of #MeToo and #TimesUp, too.
Hours before we saw Seacrest, it was reported that E! was giving him a 30-second delay, in case any celebrities challenged Seacrest on the sexual-assault allegations swirling around him.
The 30-second delay could not weed out subtlety.
“You know what? The universe has a way of taking a way of taking care of the good people, you know what I mean?” With that Taraji P. Henson gave Seacrest what could be an affectionate pinch of his cheeks. Or it might not have been affectionate at all. Celebrities did stop to speak to Seacrest on the carpet, but not that many, and the whole evening became weirdly disjointed as his celebrity-skewering deficit became more obvious. We were back with Rancic beside the pool of no return more often than E! hoped.
Rancic was not on the red carpet. She was relegated to sitting beside the pool at the nearby Roosevelt having somnambulant chatter FOR THREE HOURS with “experts” about fashion and tweety birds in the sky and the price of eggs, and yes I am making those last two up. That is what it felt like.
Presumably Rancic was stationed at the hotel, with a constant stream of pre-recorded segments ready to air, because of the fear that the disaster of no-celeb chat would befall Seacrest as it did.
So, who spoke to Seacrest? Well, a selection: Henson, Allison Janney, some of the cast of Get Out, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rita Moreno, Christopher Plummer, Andy Serkis, and Richard Jenkins. That’s enough to ward off an on-screen disaster for sure. But there was no sign of Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek, and Mira Sorvino talking about their activism. There was no sign of Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothée Chalamet.
There was most surely no talk of #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Everyone else who would typically stop and talk to Seacrest did not. He looked overjoyed at anyone who stopped for a word, but the real story is who did not stop for him, and why they did not stop for him. That will emerge in the next few days.
An attempt to save the Seacrest ass was made early in the evening, as it was on Live! earlier in the week, by his co-host Ripa, who turned up with husband Mark Consuelos (who looked like he’d rather be at the dentist than standing there), and told him how great a job he was doing, and all the rest. Tomorrow they will present their post-Oscars show at 9 a.m. ET, and guess what won’t be mentioned.
Watching Seacrest on E! and ABC right now is to watch the drivers of power and silence working in reality-defying tandem.
Clearly, Seacrest, the celebrity and powerful Hollywood player, plus E! and ABC want this scandal to go away, die down. Nothing must endanger the various Seacrest franchises, and the various power centers he and his production company RSP occupy.
And so, Seacrest was at the red carpet to make a point about himself and his place in Hollywood. However, his act of defiance would only work if Hollywood played along, and if the big stars and their handlers believed in him enough to talk to him.
They did not. In all those people who did not talk to Seacrest, Hollywood delivered its own baleful judgment. It must have been humiliating for Seacrest to watch his usual celebrity chit-chatters walk on by, and it must surely give E! and ABC pause for thought that silence and carrying on as normal are not really the best tactics to navigate this mess.
To Giuliana Rancic, feel free to dive into that damn pool and scream your lungs out.