Oscar 2012: New Host is Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane is the new host of the Oscar kudocst.

MacFarlane,  set to host the 85th Academy Awards on Februray 24 at the Dolby Theater,  is a Hollywood success story but one who has operated largely behind the camera.

His profile, however, has been considerably boosted this past year by hosting duties on “Saturday Night Live,” an Emmy appearance last week, a debut album and singing gigs. And this summer’s “Ted” has cemented his status as a bigscreen player.

“This has been a whirlwind, and it’s all been fairly recent, but it’s the greatest call that I could have gotten as far as this business is concerned,” MacFarlane told Variety. “I was thrilled to take it on  —  and very oddly comfortable with the whole thing. I think it’s going to be a blast.”

While some may see the choice of MacFarlane as a revived effort to attract a younger demographic to the Oscar broadcast on ABC (coincidentally, MacFarlane’s animated comedies for Fox air against the Academy Awards on Sunday night), Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron told Variety that MacFarlane offers the potential to win over all camps with a mix of irreverence and respect for Hollywood history.

“One of the great things about Seth is he has one foot steeped in the tradition of what’s come before,” Meron said, “with an eye (toward) what’s currently in the consciousness now. That’s the balance that we look for.”

MacFarlane said he wasn’t aware when he hosted the “SNL” season premiere on Sept. 15 that he was under consideration for the Oscar slot, though Meron and Zadan said they already had their eyes on him.

“We were discussing Seth before ‘SNL,’?” Meron said. “He was fantastic on ‘SNL.’ … It was kind of the perfect storm of everything we were thinking about.”

Not since John Huston co-hosted the Academy Awards in 1974 with Burt Reynolds, David Niven and Diana Ross has there been an Oscar host whose primary role in the industry wasn’t onscreen. Other hosts, such as David Letterman, have had limited profiles internationally but were plenty recognizable to U.S. viewers.

MacFarlane will venture where even the most seasoned on-camera performers have struggled, seeking to win over both the Academy crowd inside the Dolby Theater and the domestic and international TV audiences.

“When the Academy hired us to produce the show,” Zadan said, “we knew that we wanted to set out and do something very fresh, and we wanted to find a host that would be able to (work with) the concept we had for the show.

“Seth (offers) the diversity of talent that we really had hoped for. He does comedy, he’s a great writer, he sings and dances  —  he does everything really well, which enables us to put on a show that has a rousing entertainment value.”

That diversity expands the possibilities for how the Academy Awards will open  —  whether with standup, music, animation or a hybrid of the three.

“Nothing has really been decided yet,” MacFarlane said. “I think the challenge is just going to be what instantly sets the tone and lets the audience know that we’re going to be riding a Goldilocks zone between relevant, contemporary comedy that will hopefully, genuinely get laughs and at the same time making sure there’s a backbone of old-fashioned showmanship that treats the Oscars with reverence.”

Before this year, MacFarlane was best known for creating, exec producing and providing voices for Fox animated hit “Family Guy” and spinoffs “American Dad” and “The Cleveland Show.” As far as hosting events, before the recent season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” his biggest impact had been on Comedy Central’s celebrity roasts.

MacFarlane has become a bigscreen sensation in 2012 with “Ted,” which he directed and co-wrote while also playing the title character  —  though again in a voiceover role. “Ted” has grossed more than $420 million worldwide.

MacFarlane has performed musically to sold-out audiences at London’s Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Carnegie Hall, and his 2011 debut album, “Music Is Better Than Words,” earned two Grammy nominations that nicely complement his 13 Emmy noms (including two wins) for “Family Guy.”

His well-received opening “SNL” monologue Sept. 15 was capped by a musical number that showed off his singing chops  —  but also significantly played off his array of “Family Guy” voices. MacFarlane realizes he can’t rely on TV material  —  however well recognized in pop culture  —  that will be foreign to many in the Academy.

“It’s one of many reasons to avoid too much material that references what it is that I do for Fox or for the movies,” MacFarlane said. “But I’m not incredibly worried about that. It’s more about getting out there and letting the audience know as soon into the show as you can that you’re having a great time and (they) should have a great time.

“Taking command of the stage … ideally, that’ll be the antidote.”

MacFarlane succeeds the man best known for taking command of the Oscar stage in recent times: Billy Crystal, who saddled up late in the game last awards season after Eddie Murphy withdrew following Brett Ratner’s resignation from producer duties. The Oscars haven’t had the same host in back-to-back years since Crystal in 1997 and 1998.

Since that time, Oscar hosts have included Crystal (three more times, giving him nine overall), Steve Martin (twice, plus once sharing with Alec Baldwin), Whoopi Goldberg (twice), Jon Stewart (twice), Ellen DeGeneres, Hugh Jackman, Chris Rock and, in 2011, the combination of Anne Hathaway and James Franco.

Jackman became the subject of much Oscar host speculation once Zadan and Meron were selected in August to produce this year’s kudocast. Jackman, who previously hosted the Oscars in 2009 to largely positive notices, won the 2004 Tony for lead actor in a musical and also emceed the Tony Awards three consecutive years from 2003-05, would also have meshed with the musical-infused sensibilities of Zadan and Meron, whose exec producer credits include 2002 Oscar-winning best picture “Chicago.”

But it will be MacFarlane that fills this Oscar bill.

“Seth is unbelievably talented,” said Academy prexy Hawk Koch. “We couldn’t be happier with the creative team we’ve assembled. With Craig, Neil, and now Seth, we’re off to a great start.”