As Aaron Sorkin is fond of asking, what kind of day has it been?
This week’s whirlwind of controversy in the wake of Brett Ratner’s gaffe seems to have finally drawn to a close. Things have moved so quickly since my post on Monday that I thought it best to wait for the dust to settle before offering up any further commentary on the issue – honestly I didn’t think it would be this quick. The Academy has been remarkably savvy in dealing with the brouhaha as rapidly as possible, not giving Ratner’s homophobic quote any time to fester in the media.
Both AMPAS and Ratner apparently realized that the clamoring for the tone-deaf director’s firing was only going to get worse, resulting in Ratner resigning from the role of Oscar telecast producer on Tuesday. That was the right call, and only to be expected. More surprising was the announcement by tapped host Eddie Murphy early Wednesday that he would be following “creative partner” Ratner out the door. I am disappointed on several levels with Murphy’s decision: first and mostly because I think Murphy had a wonderful opportunity to remind everyone that he still has the talents of a consummate showman, and after the tremendous box-office flop of “Tower Heist” (which somehow opened in second place to holdover “Puss in Boots,” drawing in a relatively paltry $24 million), Murphy seems destined to once again become the butt of jokes, rather than the deliverer. Second, I don’t think it’s the wisest move to so quickly throw one’s lot in with a man who has just been publicly trashed for his ineptitude.
But, in any case, that left the Academy short one producer and one host for their Oscar ceremony, now only about three months away. Back to square one. But it seems that AMPAS had a pretty solid Plan B already in place, because Ratner was replaced by producer Brian Grazer on Wednesday evening, and the news has just broke that Billy Crystal, bandied about for months now as just the savior that the Oscars need, has agreed to return as host for the first time since 2004.
The best word for both of these moves is sensible. With time running out to put the show together, the Academy couldn’t afford to get too adventurous. Grazer, a frequent partner of Ron Howard and producer of “Apollo 13,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “8 Mile,” “Frost/Nixon,” and, ironically, “Tower Heist,” is well-respected within the industry and should have the connections to make a solid, inoffensive ceremony (I mean, c’mon, he works with RON HOWARD, who is pretty much “inoffensive” incarnate). And last year’s Franco/Hathaway debacle made a lot of people nostalgic for the delightful, Crystal-helmed ceremonies of the 90’s. I have no idea if the writing team that Ratner had just hired over the weekend will stay on, but we can certainly look forward to an amusing, if perhaps unspectacular, show come February.
[Side note: Grazer’s hiring is interesting, though, since it shows that Academy execs clearly don’t expect “J. Edgar” to be a major player for Oscar recognition – Grazer served as one of the producers on Eastwood’s biopic, and while last year’s Franco hiring showed that they don’t much care if the host is also an awards contender, having one of the show’s producers also be in the hunt is unprecedented.]
I’m disappointed that the Academy didn’t listen to the rising campaign for the Muppets to host, which is possibly the most brilliant idea that I’ve heard regarding the Oscars in a long time. And I think it’s incredibly stupid that they didn’t just go with a team like Grazer and Crystal in the first place, rather than making yet another ill-advised stab at being hip and young by trying Ratner. AMPAS seems permanently stuck in panic mode regarding the Oscar telecast, even though the Academy Awards remains the most-watched non-sports TV event of the year, EVERY year. Yes, ratings are down from the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s, but AMPAS needs to wake up and smell the coffee: with the rise of the Internet and enormous cable TV packages, there’s just way more choice out there for people when it comes to personal entertainment. Option and choice rules the day – there are no more true must-see TV events. The Oscars are not broke. You can tinker with them, make them better, sure, but stop trying so desperately to FIX them. You’re doing fine.
And by the way, you can start tinkering with them by hiring the Muppets to host next year. Seriously. This would be awesome.