Oscar Show 2013: Who’s the Right Host–Not Seth MacFarlane

For years now, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has tried to reinvent the stale Oscar show and ended up on artistic blocks.

The February 2011 show was the Academy’s biggest attempt to go young and hip, with James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and it failed miserably.

A year later, Brett Ratner was brought in to shake things up on the producing side, then found that choosing a producer who would offer uncensored personal thoughts in public wasn’t going to fly. After Ratner ankled the show, with host Eddie Murphy following him out the door, Billy Crystal returned with an old-school approach.

Then came Seth MacFarlane, whose efforts were loved by a staunch minority. MacFarlane also made it clear long before the Oscars that this would be a one-time thing. He confirmed that on Twitter on Monday, a day after the Oscars.

Sunday’s Oscarcast begged us to consider whether this year’s Golden Globes hosts, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, might move over to next year’s Oscars. But Fey has ruled out doing so. “I just feel like that gig is so hard,” Fey told Mike Ryan of the Huffington Post. “Especially for, like, a woman–the amount of months that would be spent trying on dresses alone … no way. … I wish I could tell you there was a chance.”

The ratings for the Oscars ticked up this year, both in total viewers and in key demographics, so it will be tempting for the Academy to consider that it was on the right track with MacFarlane — even to the point where you could argue that it doesn’t matter how liked he was. Talking to insiders as well as outsiders, I found they kept watching the show, from start to finish.

But this year was a rare recent Oscars with wide box office appeal: six films with more than $100 million in domestic box office and a seventh (“Zero Dark Thirty”) poised to go over the top. People were invested in the contenders, and that, more than the host (let alone the heavy emphasis on musical tributes) is logically why viewers turned on and never dropped out.

The Academy will be under a new president next year after Hawk Koch’s term ends. The goal will be to combine the best of both worlds: to to ensure popular films reach the Oscars and to continue to pursue a host who will bring younger audiences.

Possible Hosts?

Melissa McCarthy like Fey and Poehler first showed her awards spark at the Emmys, but she uncharacteristically struggled through her Oscar presenting assignment Sunday with Paul Rudd. She has an even broader film profile today than Fey, thanks to “Bridesmaids,” “This Is 40” and “Identity Thief,” and would also provide a welcome (yet far from politically correct) antidote to the boys’ club atmosphere developed at the Academy Awards, which have had two solo female hosts this century and none since Ellen DeGeneres in February 2007.

But it’s hard to imagine McCarthy fronting the Oscars on ABC, which holds the rights to the Oscars through 2020, before her association with rival CBS’ “Mike & Molly” ends.

Neil Patrick Harris, who has already aced the Tonys and Emmys and who has youth-skewing credibility from TV to film (“Harold and Kumar”) and the Web (“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), will be wrapping up the Eye’s “How I Met Your Mother” in spring 2014, so he may be a candidate.

If someone like Tom Hanks ever said he wanted to do it, that would be signed and sealed. However, it’s looking like the logical choice for next year’s Oscars is Jimmy Kimmel.

He’s an ABC personality. He has 18-49 cachet. He’s got a fairly well-received Emmys hosting gig from 2012. He’s established a well-defined connection to the kudofest thanks to the tailor-made Oscar-night special editions of his talkshow. Now that he has moved “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to its new, pre-midnight timeslot, his next challenge awaits.

There’s plenty of time before the Academy arrives at a decision–last year’s MacFarlane announcement didn’t come until October. AMPAS will consider its options, while Kimmel, if interested, would have to decide whether the time commitment needed for hosting the Oscars (whether the 2014 Winter Olympics push them to January or March) would be worth the criticism that seems to follow every recent kudocast.

The point is not to let those dreary reviews become a self-fulfilling prophecy as MacFarlane and exec producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron did. Meanwhile, it’s never too soon to start touting box office hits as Oscar contenders on your talkshow.

Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Huffinton Post