We’re not wishing failure on this year’s Oscar telecast or predicting that host Ellen DeGeneres will bomb. When it comes to the Oscars, we’re always hopeful, like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin or an L.A. resident dreaming of decent public transportation. And then the show starts and Seth MacFarlane spends 16 minutes making a joke about how he’s going to fail at the job and then goes on to do just that for the next three hours and ... mmmphŠ it’s wait ‘til next year.
But it’s going to be different on Sunday, right? Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are back on the job, as is DeGeneres, returning as host seven years after her first turn. We’re sure they’re going to put all that experience to good use. But, you know, just in case, here are a few ideas for a more perfect night, both for this year and the future.
n Ramp up the energy, Ellen.
We enjoyed your low-key charm back in ‘07. But there’s a fine line between unpretentious and just a little dull. Don’t let MacFarlane’s failure last year keep you from stirring the pot. As long as you’re funny, no one will mind the barbs.
n Pick a host. Then stay the course.
We’ve gone from the "OMG! Oscars heart young people" Anne Hathaway / James Franco debacle to nostalgic, old Hollywood Billy Crystal then, last year, to naughty (MacFarlane) to this year’s return to nice.
n Change the venue.
"The Oscars used to be a good time," says Robert Osborne, author of "85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards." "But that was back in the early years when it was a banquet and people used to be able to eat and drink and relax. It was a party everyone wanted to attend. Now no one wants to go unless they have to." So why not move it back to a ballroom? Scaling back on the starchiness of a theater setting would do wonders for the vibe in the room and, by extension, the show itself.
n Keep it at three hours.
The Oscars used to clock in under three hours regularly. Then, beginning in 1974, the show began to stretch. Osborne attributes the bloat to added performance numbers and actors who believe that time limits for speeches "apply to everyone else but them."
So how do you trim the fat?
n Not all songs are created equal. And songwriters would be the first to tell you this. Some songs fit nicely within the context of a film but aren’t exactly performance show-stoppers. Others, like Adele’s "Skyfall," rank as moments that will draw viewers. This year’s plan to have all four of the nominees perform might seem like overkill, but it’s a good call. U2 -- can’t go wrong. Karen O’s tender, bittersweet "The Moon Song" will get the home viewers to stop chatting and pay attention. "Frozen’s" "Let It Go" That’ll get the kids to watch. Pharrell Williams? Great, his hat could bring in an audience all on its own.
n Streamline the best picture introductions. How about just a clip reel ping-ponging between great moments from all the nominated movies? Do keep the "In memoriam" tribute, though it can celebrate without being so somber. May we suggest that someone (Karen O?) sing "We’ll Meet Again" It’s sentimental without being maudlin, and Stanley Kubrick liked it enough to put it in the last scene of "Dr. Strangelove." Now that is movie magic.