Tue. Jul 23rd, 2019

2019 Oscars: What it will take to have a 3-hour show and why they shouldn’t do it

The 90th Oscars, hosted by Jimmy Kimmell

In the face of dwindling ratings and a huge yearly cost to put on the Academy Awards, New ABC president Karey Burke doubled down at the 2019 TCA (with statements that range from historically inaccurate to patently untrue) on yesterday’s demand at the Oscars luncheon by producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss that they are sticking to the plan for a 3-hour Oscars telecast.

They hope to accomplish this with some drastic measures:

  • Having no host (for the first time in 30 years – that show ran 3h 19m)
  • Moving 6-8 categories off the regular program and handing them out during commercials, with edited versions inserted throughout the show
  • Truncating the Original Song performances into 90-seconds each
  • Telling winners they have 90 seconds to get to the stage and deliver their speeches.

Seem like an impossible task? Well, that’s because it probably is. Last year’s show, the 90th Academy Awards, ran approximately 187 minutes (3h 7m) of actual programming. With commercials the time came in at about 3h 53m. So Gigliotti and Weiss need to shave over 50 minutes to hit their target.

The producers and ABC (which is owned by Disney) seem to think that ratings are the key and that they can somehow miraculously go back to an era when 40M+ viewers was a given. The Oscars have always been late to change, whether it’s diversifying their membership or how they define an ‘Oscar’ film. They’re guided by bottom lines and profits (The Oscars are still the second largest ad cash grab after the Super Bowl – why wouldn’t they want a four-hour show?) but with a contract to host the show going all the way to 2028 (what will our viewing even be like in 10 years?) the network has consistently fallen behind in how it makes the show available. For example, The Game Awards, an annual ceremony honoring achievement in the video game industry, currently streams their show via Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and more. Their ratings? In 2014 they were 1.9M. In 2018 they were 26.2. The Academy and ABC have hitched themselves to an ever-dying platform and neglected to embrace multiple formats of watching television to their own detriment.

They’ve shown they can be moved by the public, or public outcry, as we’ve seen this season. When social media blew up at them over their Popular Film Oscar plan, they backtracked. When it was reported that only “Shallow” from A Star Is Born and “All the Stars” from Black Panther would be performed on the show, the Academy quickly added “I’ll Fight” from RBG, then “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns and “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs almost immediately after (as of this writing they still haven’t secured who would be performing “All the Stars”).

This season has been one disaster after another for the Academy, both in decisions and unveiling them, not the least of which was the late announcement of Kevin Hart as the Oscars host only to have backlash against homophobic comments from his past erupting on social media and the actor’s blatant refusal to properly and sincerely apologize for them. He stepped down rather than address the LGBTQ community directly and believably. The show will now go host-less for the first time in 30 years. The last time was *checks notes* the 1989 show with the Rob Lowe/Snow White number that has gone down in Oscars infamy.

On Friday it was reported that none of last year’s acting winners were asked to return and present, as has been tradition (Best Actor winner presents Best Actress, etc), in favor of ‘bigger stars.’ So hurt by this, Allison Janney – last year’s Supporting Actress winner for I, Tonya – took to her Instagram to express her feelings about it. “It’s looking like they are not going to honor the tradition this year,” she wrote. “It breaks my heart.” Think about this, too: last year’s Supporting Actor winner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is a nominee again this year (same category, for Vice) will likely have a front row seat as Best Supporting Actress is presented by someone else. [UPDATE: all four acting winners from last year will now present]

AwardsWatch forum member Vector meticulously broke down last year’s show, which looks like this:

1. Opening montage (2:09)
2. Opening monologue (11:32)
3. Best Supporting Actor (6:39)
— commercials —
4. Kimmel jokes (0:56)
5. Best Makeup (3:16)
6. Best Costume Design (4:53)
— commercials —
7. Kimmel jokes (1:00)
8. Best Documentary (4:19)
9. Song performance – “Mighty River,” from Mudbound (5:01)
— commercials —
10 90 years montage (4:14)
11. Kimmel jokes (0:52)
12. Best Sound Editing (3:02)
13. Best Sound Mixing (3:30)
— commercials —
14 Governors awards (0:35)
15. Kimmel jokes (0:38)
16. Best Production Design (4:30)
17. Song performance – “Remember Me,” from Coco (4:44)
— commercials —
18. Kimmel jokes (1:12)
19. Best Foreign Language Film (4:09)
20. Best Supporting Actress (6:11)
— commercials —
21 Kimmel jokes (1:13)
22. Best Animated Short (3:20)
23. Best Animated Feature (3:23)
24. Song performance – “Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name (3:35)
— commercials —
25. Best Visual Effects (3:39)
26. Best Film Editing (3:29)
27. A Wrinkle in Time visit pt1 (2:56)
— commercials —
28. A Wrinkle in Time visit pt2 (4:17)
29. Best Documentary Short (4:41)
30. Best Live Action Short (3:13)
31. Song performance – “Stand Up For Something,” from Marshall (5:09)
— commercials —
32. Diversity montage (5:32)
33. Best Adapted Screenplay (4:31)
34. Best Original Screenplay (3:42)
— commercials —
35. War movies montage (3:08)
36. Kimmel jokes (1:24)
37. Best Cinematography (3:24)
38. Song performance – “This Is Me,” from The Greatest Showman (4:36)
— commercials —
39. Kimmel jokes (0:34)
40. Best Original Score (3:34)
41. Best Original Song (3:21)
42. In Memoriam (5:00)
— commercials —
43. Best Director (3:54)
— commercials —
44. Best Actor (9:18)
45. Best Actress (8:46)
— commercials —
46. Kimmel jokes (0:51)
47. Best Picture (8:17)
58. Ending (0:57)
59. Credits (3:37)

Awards presentations, speeches – 1:51:01
Host comedy bits – 28:22
Song performances – 23:05
Montages – 15:03
Other moments (Governors, In Memoriam, Credits) – 9:12

It’s very possible that they’ll be able to get the show at or very near the 3-hour mark but at what cost? Removing the host elements is substantial, accounting for nearly 30m of airtime. That’s an easy cut. Montages, for the most part, are consistently among the least interesting for both Oscar fans and casual viewers. That’s another 15 minutes. That puts us at 43 minutes, pretty close to the mark they’re looking for. But they still want to gut and slash at two of the core elements of the show: the speeches and the performances.

Let’s look at this year and what historic moments might be shuttled to commercials. Hannah Beachler is not only the first African-American nominated for Production Design (Black Panther) but imagine what a win would inspire? Ruth E. Carter, the costume designer nominated for Black Panther would also be a first if she wins.

By moving some categories to commercials, it means viewers could miss out on exciting live Oscar moments and milestones. Like Roger Deakins finally winning Best Cinematography after 14 (!!) nominations. Or Kevin O’Connell winning Sound Mixing after 21 (!!!) nominations and giving a heartfelt speech about his late mother. What about that time when Elinor Burketta rushed the stage to Kanye her way into a speech when ‘Music for Prudence’ won Best Documentary Short in 2010? Iconic.

Remember, Glenn Weiss is the guy who took his Emmy speech time to propose to his girlfriend on live television. That indelible moment certainly took longer than 90 seconds (3 minutes, from announcement to finish, to be exact). It’s a strange thing when someone has something but then tells others they can’t.

Imagine shortened versions of Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens To You,” that featured hundreds of sexual assault survivors on stage. Or John Legend and Common’s magnificent staging of their Oscar-winning song “Glory” from Selma. If only that interpretive dance during that Crash song had been shortened. But I digress.

These are indelible moments that make the Oscars what they are; a chance to surprise and delight, to honor craft and inspire thousands. Don’t take these away. Let everyone sing full songs. Present all 24 awards. Respect your fans, earn new ones and give your members and nominees the respect they deserve. #PresentAll24

Have something to say? Email the Academy at publicity@oscars.org and give them your thoughts.

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