ABC boss is totally unbothered by all the Oscars messiness: I’m ‘happy’ about the ‘speculation and curiosity’

Between the Best Popular Film fiasco, presenting below-the-line categories off the air, Kevin Hart hosting/un-hosting, the musical numbers kerfuffle, not having last year’s acting winners present and general murkiness around the ceremony, this is the messiest lead-up to the Oscars in years. But ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke doesn’t see it that way.

“I, ironically, have found that the lack of clarity around the Oscars has kept the Oscars really in the conversation and the mystery has been really compelling,” Burke said Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour. “People really care. I think it’s fascinating.”

Burke, who replaced Channing Dungey in November, admitted that she was initially worried about all the Oscar turmoil, but there “wasn’t much messiness beyond the Kevin Hart situation” in December, when the comedian stepped down as host after declining to apologize for old anti-LGBTQ comments, claiming that he had already done so. After that, she said it was clear “that we were going to stay the course,” which was keep the show to three hours.

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“There was an idea that we were going to just have presenters host the Oscars and we all got on board with that idea pretty quickly,” she said. “The main goal, which I was told [when I started the job] was what the academy promised ABC last year, after a very lengthy telecast, was to keep the show to three hours. So the producers, I think, wisely decided to not have a host and to go back to having the presenters and the movies be the stars. And that will be the best way that we kind of keep the show at a brisk three hours.”

Burke does not know which categories will be given out during the commercial breaks, but she’s meeting with producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss later this week to hear their ceremony rollout plan. “From what I’ve heard there’ll be an exciting opening,” she teased.

Noting that three of the Best Picture nominees have grossed more than $200 million domestically — “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” — Burke is hopeful that there’ll be a “big turnout” to stop the ratings hemorrhaging of awards shows. “Awards shows’ ratings are down across the board. It is a challenge and one I think we have to keep very vigilant about,” she said. “Obviously people tune for the big categories, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress. I think particularly this year, given so many of the nominees are blockbusters, that we will see, hopefully, is people staying tuned throughout the show to see who’s going to win those big awards.”

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Pointing to the Best Original Song category, Burke confirmed that all five nominated songs will be performed, but did not speak to the initial reports that said only “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” and “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” would be. “This year, I am wildly excited, and I think America is, about the song category. We have Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga,” she said. “We just have a phenomenal music show if we just want to put that on. So I think that element will be very exciting.”

Burke emphasized that many of the decisions and problems, as they were, involving the ceremony occurred before she took her post in November, but she welcomes the continuing public debate and discussion. “That’s evidence of how relevant the Oscars still are, that people are talking about these things and caring about these things,” she said. “So I’m happy that it’s part of the conversation, that there is speculation and curiosity.”

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