This Patrick Goldstein LA Times article is making the rounds. It has some radical suggestions for how to spruce up the Oscars telecast after the downturn in viewership this year. I think his main observation, that it's time to ditch the Carol Burnett variety show approach, is pretty undeniable.
He suggests that the Oscar telecast needs shortening. That certainly would ease the burden on viewers. However, does a two-hour telecast make as much revenue as a three-hour-and-then-some telecast that's still going to be among the highest rated programs of the year? Obviously I don't know the dollar figures involved, but I'm skeptical that such a shortening would be in the Academy financial interest.
Goldstein suggests doing away with the performances of the Original Song category. That's another hard call. This year, obviously, the category sucked, because of the mindless inclusion of three songs from Enchanted. But last year, the Original Song category provided an excuse to have Beyonce perform three songs, which would have to be seen as an asset. This year might have been better if Eddie Vedder had been nominated, if an energetic Hairspray number had been performed, etc. but the rules don't permit their nomination. That's the first place that the problems lie, in the nominations.
However, I would agree that they should jettison the presentation of a number of the minor awards during the main broadcast, and I like Goldstein's suggestion of a separate ceremony and telecast on a movie-focused cable channel. As an olive branch for the banishment, they could take the extra time available on the show to give the viewers insight into how the nominees do their magic. Then they can run a brief recap of those awards on the main telecast, and hopefully everyone is happy.
Goldstein suggests that the Oscars learn from sports telecasts. While I wouldn't want to see everything adopted from, say, Fox's overly testoeroned NFL coverage, I do have some ideas that might gel with that. I would like to see famous film people cut segments that break down, analyze, explain, and promote the nominees. Some ideas:
1) Cut a segment in which each one the Best Actor nominees takes the performance of a Best Actress nominee and explains what he loves about the performance, and vice versa.
2) Have Martin Scorsese, American director emeritus and a guy who can project his enthusiasm for movies, tape a segment talking about what he loves in each of the Best Picture contenders. Kevin Smith might do some of this, too, perhaps in a different category.
3) Let Roger Ebert, health permitting, talk about what he loves about Juno or obviously whatever film next year.
4) Get Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow to do a humorous he-said-she-said segment about one of the categories or all the categories, or whatever they want to do with the nominees.
5) Have each Best Director nominee film a short documentary on one of the acting nominees. Have Julian Schnabel film a day in the life of George Clooney or P.T. Anderson spends a night on the town with Javier Bardem.
This would bring greater focus to the actual product that the Academy wants to promote, and helps to explain why these films and performances are groundbreaking and deserve the audience's enthusiasm. I think people would eat it up. At least they would eat it up more than they eat up the Best Makeup category.