EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 24, 2013

Oscar's problems are bigger than Seth MacFarlane

By Chuck Barney
McClatchey-Tribune News Service

---- — The bigwigs in charge of Sunday’s Oscar telecast have pretty much promised to blow our freakin’ minds.

That’s right. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the award-winning team behind “Chicago,” claim they’re going to stuff the show with more “wow” moments (i.e. song-and-dance numbers), more shiny stars (look, it’s Barbra Streisand!) and more suspense (who will Seth MacFarlane insult next?) than anyone can possibly imagine.

And by the end of the night, we’ll all be welded to the couch, coated in orange Cheetos dust, and staring at our TV sets in slack-jawed wonder.

Or something like that.

Now, we hate to be a Billy Buzz-Kill, but haven’t we been down this road before? Every year, someone has a bold plan to pump more life and/or youth into the Oscars. And every year, it seems, things go awry. The show is a snoozefest that sends ratings into a nose-dive and critics on a rampage.

Or did you forget that “innovative” move to have Anne Hathaway and James Franco serve as a two-headed host in order to make the show more hip? Well, Hathaway was game, but an inert Franco completely bombed.

And recall how Chris Rock was supposed to bring an exciting, irreverent edge to the stodgy affair. The result: Oversensitive movie stars had their egos bruised, and reviewers blasted Rock for being too snide and dismissive.

You just can’t please ‘em all.

There have been other mildly adventurous tweaks intended to keep the Oscars from feeling like a fossilized museum piece. One year, someone cuts out the garish production numbers. The next year, someone puts them back. There are efforts to tinker with the pacing, to reinvent the set, to curtail the lame patter between presenters, to jazz up those pretaped packages ...

On and on it goes, and when all else fails, someone inevitably gets the bright idea to pluck Billy Crystal out of the rest home.

So what is it that we want out of the Oscar telecast anyway? Well, we want some laughs, maybe a healthy dose of mockery. We want a few spontaneous, surprising and genuinely emotional moments. We certainly crave some star power, but prefer it if the stars keep the stifling sense of self-importance in check.

Oh, and we’d like it all to end before we have to get up for work. Is that too much to ask?

The problem, it seems, is that there is only so much control the host, or even the producers, have over the event. Rookie host MacFarlane, after all, can be as edgy and biting as he wants, but he can’t put the kibosh on what has become the most grating element of recent Oscar telecasts: Winners who insist on forgoing candor and spontaneity and turn their acceptance speeches into long, monotonous laundry lists of thank-yous.

Meanwhile, outdated Academy requirements prevent Zadan and Meron from dumping those god-awful award categories that bore the heck out of viewers at home. Unlike the Grammys, which hand out only 10 or so awards on the air (while emphasizing live performances), the Oscar show is bogged down by 24 categories, including Documentary Short Subject and Sound Mixing. Be honest. When was the last time you were super excited to see a sound-mixer?

Speaking of the Grammys, which actually drew a bigger audience than the Oscars last year, they have a sense of joy and celebration that makes for good TV. Same goes for the Golden Globes, where the liquor, and the jokes, freely flow. Oscar, in comparison, has a stick up his rear end because of that sense of self-importance we mentioned. How can the celebrities really let loose when they go in believing this is the BIGGEST DEAL ON PLANET EARTH?

One other thing MacFarlane and the producers can’t control: Viewership largely depends on the movies and stars who are nominated. Tis better to have a blockbuster like “Titanic” or a “Lord of the Rings” in the running than a “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Along those lines, this year’s show already has a few checks in the plus column, because the nominees include several movies that the American public actually paid to see. Movies that we didn’t have to go Google.

Now, if we can only do something about that sound-mixing problem.

Chuck Barney: cbarney@text1:@@text1:bayareanewsgroup.com