Oscar: Coming Home–Back to Hollywood

In 2002, the Oscars moved into their new home, the Kodak Theater, at the site of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The plan is for the Kodak to annually host the Oscar ceremony, which has long been shuttled between various Los Angeles venues. It was an exciting occasion, and a significant event in the rebirth of Hollywood. “Kodak is pictures and the Academy Awards honor the best pictures,” said Joerg Agin, president of Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging. “We expect it to be one of the most photographic locations in Hollywood.” A decaying neighborhood that has resisted many clean-up efforts was finally on its way to restoring the glory of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The new home offers many advantages. The Oscar’s return to Hollywood fulfills the Academy’s wish for the show to originate from the mythical showbiz capital. The Academy gets its own home and will no longer be a vagabond, moving from one venue to another. The Dorothy Chandler was elegant, but too small. The Shrine Auditorium was large, but timeworn. In comparison, the Kodak is brand-new and just the right size–3000 seats. The theater has intimacy–its “pushed forward” steepness should help the host establish rapport with the live audience.

There’s also efficiency in the venue’s consolidation of elements–the telecast, the governor’s ball, and the press are all in one place. The Academy hopes that having a designated arrival area will add to the theatricality of the pre-show experience. The red carpet leading to the Kodak theater, which was actually burgundy, was cordoned off by an army of security guards. The extended area with fans in bleachers on the right and the press on the left added excitement to the arrivals. To avoid criticism that the Oscars are being held in a shopping mall, the Academy spent a fortune paying businesses to close down their stores and cover their signs. Considerable efforts were made to obscure the tackiness of Hollywood and Highland’s mercantile side.

Observers were pondering the nature of the 2002 award ceremonies, considering the somber mood that loomed over the Emmys show–which had been postponed twice–after the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the political events that followed. Whoopi Goldberg, the show’s host, told the Hollywood Reporter: “We’re all coming in a little shell-shocked from the last six months, and everybody’s carrying that. My job is to get us across the rapids with some fun, humor, grace, and dignity, and make it a great night.”

Goldberg did acknowledge the fact that she was “throwing a housewarming because that’s what the Oscars are, a housewarming.” Her task, to strike a balance between jokes for the industry and the need to relate to a vast TV audience, was met with relative success. Goldberg held that the national obsession with pop culture and celebs makes her hosting job easier, because, “there’s very little inside information left. Most of the things that you talk about are things that everybody has heard or see in Entertainment Tonight or somewhere else.”

Year one at the Kodak seems to have been fairly successful. In 2002, the Oscarcast’s 41.8 million viewers was the fourth highest-rated telecast of the season, following the Super Bowl with 86.8 million, the Opening Ceremonies of Winter Olympics with 45.6, and the Women’s Games Figure-Skating with 43.3.

Do the Oscars still function as the cultural event of the year, or are they just an ode to the culture of celebrity, asked Paul Brownfield in the Los Angeles Times. As a shared experience, few occasions outside spectator sports merit the collective attention of the Academy Awards. For Brownfield, the show’s laborious nature is dictated by the Academy’s philosophy that TV exists for the Oscar Awards–not the other way around. Crousing about the length of the broadcast is common, with attention span strained to the breaking point by the time the Thalberg Memorial Award is presented Yet we shouldn’t forget that, no matter how entertaining the show is, complaining about the Oscars rapidly becoming a global habit and major part of the fun.

The Academy has a twenty-year lease on the Kodak with exit options. Whether the Kodak becomes Oscar’s permanent home depends on how the new venue works and how Academy members respond to it.