The Who2 Blog

Fixing the Oscar Host Problem

Photo of Seth MacFarlane in a tuxedo, hosting the Oscars onstage

The Oscars have been gone for a week, the host has been trashed in the traditional post-ceremony grousing, and this seems like a good time to reconsider the whole art of Oscar hosting.

Seth MacFarlane was the last, best hope to find somebody “edgy” who also had song-and-dance cred and the requisite love of Old Hollywood. If he couldn’t hack it (and he’s already said he won’t be back), then nobody can.

It’s not like this problem is something new. You hear the same thing every year: Franco and Hathaway were too goofy. Billy Crystal was too desperate. Jon Stewart was too snarky. Ellen Degeneres was too bland. Rinse and repeat.

The problem isn’t the Oscars and the problem isn’t the talent.  The problem is that the last 30 years of movie entertainment have been about the Rise of Irony. Three decades of Hollywood stars have grown up with that layer of detachment that we all see now in movies, books and blogs.

If you want to pick a year the irony scale was tipped for good, try 1994.  The year before that, in 1993, the best picture nominees were:

The Piano
The Fugitive
Remains of the Day
In the Name of the Father
Schindler’s List (winner)

In 1994, the best picture nominees were:

Pulp Fiction
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Quiz Show
The Shawshank Redemption
Forrest Gump (winner)

It is instructive to note that you can now find Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurants from Miami to Kuala Lumpur, yet there are no Oskar Schindler restaurant franchises anywhere.

So today’s movies simply use different kinds of stars. Yet the Academy is still yearning for Bob Hope or Johnny Carson to walk through that door — the person who combines glamour, humor and beloved silverback gravitas in one package.

It ain’t going to happen, because those people aren’t needed in today’s Hollywood.  They’re all in New York now — which is maybe why the Tony Awards are such good TV lately.

So what’s an Academy to do?

To start with, next year’s Oscar producers should get a modified copy of that poster you used to see next to the cash register in print shops: “Speed, quality, price: pick two.” The Academy can have glamour, jokes or gravitas, but they can’t have all three. (As McFarlane showed, they may not even get two.)

It’s clear which two items the Academy should pick, for the good of the brand: glamour and gravitas. Because the whole Oscar ceremony means nothing if the Oscar isn’t a big deal. The global obsession with Oscar gowns proves that We The People want the glamour angle most of all.

What about the humor, you say? Just set it up as a separate issue to be dealt with by a separate team. Bring in those great Hollywood writers and let them do their thing with the ten thousand available comic actors in Hollywood. Give them time for their sketches, fake clips, or whatever. We all love that stuff. Nobody wants a boring show.

But let the host bring the glamour.

As it happens, the Academy has the perfect candidate in front of them.  I’m talking about three-time Oscar winner (and 17-time nominee) Meryl Streep.

Photo of Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis with his OscarApega /

Just ask Daniel Day-Lewis: When Meryl Streep gives you an Oscar, you know you’re getting an Oscar. It’s a big deal. She has the glamour and the gravitas covered.

She’s still busy working, too, so it’s not like you’re dragging an old goat out of retirement. She has the wit to handle anything that comes up on Oscar night.

So run her out there in a gown and don’t make her do jokes. Let her welcome the crowd, set the tone, and when it’s time for humor then bring Chris Rock or Louis C.K. (or whoever you must have to reach men 18-34) on to warm up the crowd.  If the funny people are funny, then great. If they flop, all the better: your host, and the shine of the Oscars, stay untouched.

And isn’t that Hollywood anyway?  You don’t need a single messiah to handle it all. Movies are about great writers and producers and directors, all doing their thing behind the scenes while the actors get all the credit. Why should the Oscars be any different?

The only problem is that Meryl Streep is scheduled to be nominated again next year, just like clockwork. But what’s the point of movie magic if they can’t work around that?

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