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Monday, February 29, 2016


The 88th Academy Awards ceremony was held last night with 200 countries watching for 3 hours and 35 minutes.  In 2014 the Oscars viewership hit a 10-year high. with 43 million tuning in.  But the tally was 46 million in 2000 and 57 million in 1998.  A third of a century ago, 1983, 53 million watched.  Last year?  37 million.  With the diversity issue and boycotts, the 88th show will only do worse.  It's really not a membership nor race issue.  It's time for an extreme makeover.
Let me first provide some history, going back to 1929, with host Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, and 15 statuettes (but their were not yet called Oscars) at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with an audience of 270 people.  To the left, Fairbanks handing award to Janet Gaynor for Best Actress.  Entrance could be had for $5 (actually, worth $69 today).  The total length of the formalities:  15 minutes.

This was a momentous year, for the talkies, led by The Jazz Singer were released, but they were barred from competing.  Also, 1929 began the Great Depression.  The ceremony in Year Two began to be covered on radio, with television being utilized in 1953.   Here is a clip of this 25th Oscars, with Bob Hope's opening monologue.  The 38th in 1966 was the initial colorcast (again, watch Bob Hope--he hosted 19 times but never actually won an Oscar--he did get an honorary gold medal in 1966).

A total of just about 3000 Oscars have been bestowed. The consensus pick for most memorable moment in Oscar history occurred in 1973 when Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather rejected Marlon Brando's Oscar.  Since then, acceptance by proxy has been forbidden.  Sacheen went on to, among other things, work for Mother Theresa in India.

Oscar (amorphous history of why, but name officially selected in 1939) is 13.5 inches tall, weighing in at 8.5 pounds, and is bronze (britannia alloy was used until last year), electroplated in 24-karat gold.  Since 1950 winners had to sign a declaration not to sell, but Michael Jackson in 1999 bought the Oscar for Best 1939 Picture, Gone with the Wind, for $1.54 million, and Orson Welles' heirs got  $861,542 in 2011.

Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences do the voting.  There are 6,000 of them, 94% Caucasian and 77% male.  The president is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who, to the right, is obviously black.        
Here were the two biggest surprises and one expected loss:

1.  Mark Rylance of Bridge of Spies upset Rocky for supporting actor.
2.  Spotlight won only two statuettes, but the most important one, for Best Picture.
3.  I picked Til It Happens To You by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga to win the Original Song Oscar.  Wrong.  Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith got it for Writing's On the Wall from Spetre.  If I had known that Diane Warren had already not won after seven nominations, I would have avoided this guess.

For the entire list of winners and losers, click on this.

Here are my recommendations for an extreme makeover of Oscar:
  • Reduce the 3.5 hours to 2 hours.
  • With a membership 94% Caucasian, what happened the past two years will occur again, not because of racial prejudice, for that's the reality of having a membership almost all white.  Live with the results or, and I can't recommend this, invoke some affirmative action opportunities.
  • Do something about improving the hosting system.  Maybe ABC can sponsor an  Oscar survival series for comedians.  The top three get the Academy Award gig, perhaps with a seasoned mentor, who should be famous and popular.
  • Seriously develop a mechanism for getting better music.
  • Serve drinks, even alcoholic, using the kind of cup holders found in movie theaters.  A few winners might need to be assisted to the stage.
  • Winnow down the live TV list to the major categories, cutting out (they will, of course, get their limelight opportunity at a special dinner):
    • Sound Editing
    • Sound Mixing
    • Production Design
    • One Short Film (there are two)
    • One Documentary (there are two)
    • One writing award (there are two)
    • One music (combine original score and original song)
    • Film Editing
    • Costume Design
    • Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Here is the whopper.  Eliminate early voting, firing PricewaterhouseCoopers.
    • For each of the categories, after all the hoopla, use the latest electronics for the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science to vote.  They can do this from wherever they are or from their Dolby seat.  There are 6000 members and 3400 seats.
    • For each category they will have two minutes through the commercial, where the numbers for each nominee will be shown scrolling at the bottom of the commercial.  This should make these ads very popular and expensive, for viewers can see how the votes change.
    • At the end of the ad, spend a few minutes heightening the tension. Bring all the nominees to the stage.  HERE IS ALSO SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT:  as they are all standing before the audience anyway, like in the Olympics, confer Gold, Silver and Bronze Oscars.  However, only the Gold winner(s) can speak, for a whole minute, and the background sounds then get really loud...unless the overall director deems that something truly important is being said.  Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, when picking up his Oscar for Best Actor, made a case for the seriousness of global warming, and the orchestra was awfully quiet.
    • Use the worldwide box office gross revenues to award Oscars to the top three.  The people count, and they voted with their bucks.  For the 88th, that would have been (and, by the way, the domestic portions were all less than 50%, in billions):
I would not be surprised if the viewership by the third year increases to 75 million.  If all the above fail, return to the old way of doing this.  


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