Each time I watch the Oscars, I find myself sympathizing with my old friend Gil Cates. Gil, a very nice man, has somehow got stuck producing this elaborate wake year after year. I don’t know if he has bad karma or just a bad agent. I also don’t know how much they’re paying him. What I do know is that it’s not nearly enough.
The TV network wants to draw a huge audience, preferably composed entirely of 18-35 year olds, so that they can charge sponsors an arm and a leg to advertise. The motion picture industry also wants that same huge, young, audience because they have all those movies they want to promote. The problem is that the movies young people are interested in are not the ones that get nominated, unless it’s for visual effects, sound editing, or best animated feature. At the same time, the movies that score nominations in the major categories -- movies such as “Munich,” “Crash,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Capote” and “Brokeback Mountain” -- appeal to an older demographic, people who don’t want to spend three hours watching and listening to Chris Rock or David Letterman make smart alec remarks. Therein lies the annual dilemma.
Unlike some other old geezers, I didn’t think Rock was the worst of the Oscar hosts. How quickly some people have forgotten Whoopi Goldberg and the aforementioned Letterman! Rock merely served to remind us how much we all miss Bob Hope and Johnny Carson.
What would I do with the Oscarcast if Mr. Cates wisely stepped aside and handed the reins over to me? For openers, I’d stop trying to ride two horses headed off in opposite directions. So long as serious, mature movies are going to be nominated, the MTV audience isn’t going to be tuning in. No, not even if Britney Spears and Paris Hilton emceed the event in tandem. So I’d forget about trying to woo a young audience with a hip young host. All that does is alienate the older folks. The truth is, unless you happen to be the agent, manager or spouse of a nominee, it’s not that big a deal. Female viewers tune in to see what the actresses are wearing and what they look like, post- botox and plastic surgery, and men tune in to see if they’ve won or lost a lunch bet or if Janet Jackson’s dress is going to come undone .