LOS ANGELES (Reuters)
— Now they know how big the
show is and how much people care, but the producers of the Oscars
aren't making any apologies for their maiden effort running
Hollywood's biggest show last year or the provocative humor of its
host, Seth MacFarlane.
Despite some harsh reviews from TV critics, Craig Zadan and
Neil Meron pulled in the largest U.S. audience in three years, a
ratings bump in the 18-49 demographic coveted by TV networks
and, perhaps most importantly for them, a second chance to show
what they could do.
"I would say this year we are undaunted," Meron told Reuters
backstage at the Dolby Theatre from where ABC will broadcast the
Academy Awards on Sunday. Last year, 40.3 million U.S. viewers
tuned in to watch the film industry's top honors, a glamorous
event broadcast to 200 countries.
For this year, the producers have teased a homage to movie
heroes, like Erin Brockovich, Harry Potter and Nelson Mandela,
and a heavy dose of hit Oscar-nominated songs by hot artists,
including Pharrell Williams and U2. There will be surprises,
But the single biggest reason to tune in on Sunday in their
minds? Ellen DeGeneres, comedian, day-time talk show maven and
soon-to-be two-time Oscar host.
"She is funny and yet in her way she is very kind as well, and I
think it's a great blend," said Meron.
"We are very proud of last year's show and we love Seth," Meron
added. "Seth represents current comedy as does Ellen. They are
both experts in the their field."
But Meron bristles at the notion that the 56-year-old DeGeneres
is a safe choice, someone who won't offend like MacFarlane, the
creator and star of TV series "Family Guy" who pushed boundaries
with his risque jokes about female nudity and zingers about gays
and Jews. The Los Angeles Times called the change in hosts from
"naughty" to "nice."
"Ellen is a brilliant talent," said Meron, who with Zadan has
produced Broadway shows and the film version of the musical
"Chicago." "Brilliant talents, I don't think, are ever safe."
Unlike some of the other awards shows in town, like the Golden
Globes which has Tina Fey and Amy Poehler locked in for three
years, the Oscars are changing hosts every year. Before
MacFarlane there was a return to tradition with nine-time host
Billy Crystal after a widely panned appeal to youth with
co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco.
Despite the rotation, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, says there is
"absolutely no crisis" when in comes to picking Oscar hosts.
"We are very, very thrilled," she said. "Not only this year do I
have the veterans of Craig and Neil, but also Ellen," who hosted
Hollywood's biggest night for the first time in 2007.
Meron and Zadan inoculated themselves against criticism before they
even took the job the first year and found solace in the fact that
at least people talked about the show.
"In this age of social media, people love to start taking things
apart, especially popular things," Meron said. "So thank God we were
popular enough for people to start wanting to criticize it."
For the youth audience that was pulled in last year by MacFarlane
and entertainers like Adele, Meron says they hope to bring it back
with a combination of DeGeneres, tributes to superheroes and top
musical acts, from the cool Karen O singing "The Moon Song" to the
family friendly Idina Menzel belting out "Let It Go."
But then, there are those unscripted moments that no one plans for
and that are the real reason people want to watch the show. There
was Jennifer Lawrence tripping up the steps last year when she went
to accept her best actress Oscar or Jack Palance doing one-arm
push-ups at the age of 73 after winning his best supporting actor
award in 1991.
"Those are the things that Gil Cates, who was our great predecessor
and one of the greatest producers of the show, called Oscar gods and
he wanted the Oscar gods to smile," said Meron.