Yesterday I was thinking about how strange it was that it was almost December and we still had no announcement of an Oscars host. Last year we knew it was Jimmy Kimmel way back in May but the Academy and its producers, Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss, have been radio silent. That Kimmel hasn’t been announced to return for a third year in a row tells me it’s unlikely he will. Not impossible, but it seems like the producers are looking elsewhere.
I sent out a call to Twitter on who they think should host and let’s just say it blew up a little bit.
Top mentions included Tiffany Haddish, Maya Rudolph (as well as both together); John Mulaney, alone and together with Nick Kroll received a lot of hits. Talk show hosts like Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert and reigning champ Jimmy Kimmel, earned a lot of chatter. The Rock, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig, Key & Peele, Graham Norton and Billy Eichner, said others. Even Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty grabbed votes. Calls to bring back classic Oscar hosts like Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal were plenty. But does the Academy, which is at a crossroads with its own future, really want to go backwards in their goal of moving forward?
Then something happened. Captain America himself, Chris Evans, chimed in suggesting Robert Downey Jr. and that got me thinking; The Academy and ABC (at the behest of their owner Disney) is desperately in search of higher ratings so why not maybe an Avengers-themed wheel of hosts? Not in costume, but Evans, RDJ, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland, et al sharing duties. It covers a lot of basis for ABC: it keeps the host(s) in the family, they represent the highest and second highest grossing films of the year and all have a sharp sense of coming timing. Kyle Buchanan of the New York Times replied “ABC strong-armed the Academy into changing the Oscarcast to lure “mainstream” viewers, yet when it comes to selecting the host — something that could actually move the needle — they’ve got nothin’” and he’s absolutely right. Since abandoning their ‘Popular Film Oscar’ idea for now, the Academy hasn’t come up with any ideas to combat the declining ratings of the show. Be it ‘too many’ independent films winning or a viewing audience that hasn’t seen half the nominees, the Oscars can do a lot with who they choose to host.
There’s nothing networks and especially Disney like better than self-promotion, cross-promotion and money so it makes perfect sense for the Oscars to corral the Avengers (don’t forget those Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston fanbases) to snag a giant piece of the audience pie to justify the huge cost of owning the rights to the putting on the Academy Awards. Now, while Avengers: Infinity War isn’t likely to earn a Best Picture nomination (its ceiling is probably Visual Effects) what they do have as their secret weapon is Black Panther. That $700M juggernaut has the box office and the reviews to be the first comic book/superhero film nominated for the Oscars’ top prize and serious prognosticators are pegging it for that and much more. Audiences like films they can root for, films they’ve actually seen. It makes them feel invested. The Academy, after 90 years, should know this and if they do, they can act on it.
There’s another option, one that popped up quite a bit yesterday as well, and that’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. With Mary Poppins Returns, also a Disney property, Miranda is affable, charming and can obviously sing and dance his way through a show. He could end up being like one of the Oscars’ best recent hosts – Hugh Jackman. That he’ll have a film in contention probably isn’t too much of an obstacle for him. After all, James Franco co-hosted when he was nominated for Best Actor. While Miranda has had huge success on Broadway and with the Tonys, Mary Poppins Returns will be his largest audience to date and for many it will be their introduction to him. I think it’s inevitable that MPR is going to be a massive hit. With the Academy already making desperate changes to the awards presentation (like giving some of them during commercial breaks) Miranda may just be the spoonful of sugar to help the ratings go up.