Oscar show producers disrespect nominees at their own risk

Pity those with the task of producing the Oscar show. The event has built-in problems that producers have been trying to overcome ever since it became an international television attraction, and because their choices will never please everyone, or even a majority of fans, critics and academy members, blame is their inevitable reward.

But, usually, the blame comes after the show. Today, producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, along with their overseers on the academy board, are feeling serious heat for the decision to present Oscars for cinematography, film editing, live-action short and make-up and hair styling during commercial breaks.

That begs the question, how long are those breaks going to be? It takes at least four minutes for a winner to be announced, get to the stage, give an acceptance speech and get off. To get that done before the telecast returns, some winners are going to played off the stage by the band.

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It also begs the question, why these awards?

Something had to go in order for the show to meet its three-hour mandate and there would have been howling no matter which categories they chose to present behind commercial curtains. But cinematography? Film editing? As last year’s Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro tweeted, “they are at the very heart of our craft.”

Ratings for the Academy Awards show have been declining for reasons other than a running time that takes East Coast Oscar parties into the next day.

Chief among those reasons is the plethora of other televised awards stealing their format and their thunder – the Golden Globes, considered a dress rehearsal for Oscar, the Critics Choice Awards, meaningless other than its televised platform, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the first peer review as it were, and BAFTA, the British Oscars at which most academy nominees show up, if just to get their pictures taken.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s decision to black out four awards with commercials is reversed due to the outcry. For academy members, this is as sensitive an issue as there is. We forget that the Oscars are prizes given out by a club, members some 8,000-plus strong who believe their fields are as important as any others. But they don’t forget.

In 1987, I interviewed that year’s producer Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. as he was planning the show and he discussed with me the possibility of removing the short film awards from the show and having them presented separately. But he said this to me off the record, knowing that otherwise he’d be tarred and feathered before the ink on my story in the L.A. Times was dry.

At the time, I agreed that those categories were speed bumps for viewers and that they could be sacrificed for the sake of a shorter, smoother-running show. So, I presented the idea as my own in my column and still have bite marks on my ass to prove it.

Years later, I ran into Goldwyn in Cannes and he told me that because he had used my column to argue my/his/our idea to the board, he got blamed anyway.

Sorry, Sam.

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The time devoted to the three short films is considerable. The winners of each rightly feel they will never have a bigger stage to promote their work, their issues and themselves (it’s also an opportunity to audition for more jobs or more financing) and, of course, to thank everyone but their butcher’s dog for making it happen.

Most of the cinematography and film editing nominees are for movies that have been front-runners for other major awards throughout the long season and it is both disrespectful and self-defeating to diminish their importance.

Again, pity the producers. They are torn between wanting to do right by the nominees and wanting to do right by ABC, which is footing the costly show and hoping to both slow its ratings slide and attract a new generation of Oscar fans.

The awards season success of “Black Panther,” culminating with a SAG ensemble award and seven Oscar nominations, is a boost to show’s appeal to younger viewers. You will notice that none of the categories for which it is nominated will come up during commercials.

Moving the show up has put a little squeeze on the interlopers’ schedules and all the other less visible events that take up the talents’ time. But the inherent problem of shoving a show with 24 presentations, plus song performances, a memoriam, special awards, clips and whatever else is deemed essential and all those commercials into a three-hour window is nearly impossible.

Here’s an idea for the future: how about starting the telecast at 4 o’clock on the west coast instead of five and handing out awards for those short films and some of the technical categories in that hour? That way, every winner will have his or her moment, and we’ll all get to bed at a reasonable hour even if the show runs its usual three and a half hours.

I can hear fans of the red carpet ritual starting to groan, but if you’re that interested in gowns and awkward gab, you’d watch them an hour earlier and like it.

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