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JACK MATHEWS

Goldwyn Touch For Oscars

December 08, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

"Too much pomposity." "Need for more irreverent humor." "Entertainment should be generic to film." "Need to know how to use TV to sell our achievements."

Samuel Goldwyn Jr. was reading from the yellow legal pad on which he has been jotting down notes, criticisms and suggestions about the annual Academy Awards show, which he has agreed to produce this year. He has had no trouble getting people to speak up.

"Everybody has a love/hate relationship with the show," Goldwyn says. "You just mention it and people start going on about why don't you do this, or why don't you do that? The problem is that everybody doesn't love or hate the same things."

If we did, it would make the producer's job easier. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, ABC-TV and nearly every viewer on Eastern Standard Time would like the show to be shorter than the 3 to 3 1/2 hours it normally runs. And Goldwyn, like most of his predecessors, says cutting the show's length is his first priority.

"The show has to be shorter," he says. "We have to find ways to convey more information in a shorter time. When the show goes over three hours, that means it is after midnight on the East Coast. That is just too long."

Yes, it is, and combined with other factors--changing television viewing habits, the deglamorization of Hollywood, the mediocre run of movies up for awards--the Oscar show has been on a ratings skid in recent years.

Goldwyn says there is no panic about ratings. It is still the most widely watched event in the world. But there is concern about reversing the trend, and the way to do that, he says, is to pick up the show's pace and concentrate more on the reason it is on the air.

"The old line with movies is, 'Trust the story or don't make the movie,' " Goldwyn says. "If you don't trust the story, that's when movies get overproduced and bloated. Maybe that's what's happened here. Over the years, we have tended not to trust Oscar. But Oscar is the drawing card. That is the story."

Goldwyn says he has made no major decisions about the format for this year's show, other than his commitment to use more clips from nominated films to help viewers understand why certain films or individuals were singled out by the industry as the year's highest achievers.

"The use of clips has gotten shorter and shorter to the point where most people get no sense of the movies," he says. "Most of the people watching only see maybe two or three movies a year. They will probably be making video (rental) decisions based on what they see on the show, and we have to show them enough to help them make their decisions."

Goldwyn says clips will be selected to illustrate specific achievements in each category and will be shown during the presentations. For instance, when the winner for best art direction is announced, technicians will "punch up" a clip showing an example of the winner's work while that person is on the way up to accept the award.

Other priorities on Goldwyn's mind:

Enhance the glamour. Goldwyn says he's convinced viewers turn on the show expecting to see "beautiful people looking beautiful" and he wants to make sure they get an eyeful. Taking a page out of Oscar history, when Edith Head choreographed the clothes that presenters and nominees wore, Goldwyn has asked Broadway and film costume designer Theoni Aldredge to handle that colorful chore this year. (Can you imagine Whoopi Goldberg in pumps?)

Hold the focus on suspense. Goldwyn says he doesn't agree with those people who have suggested having analysts call the show play-by-play ("Universal has just taken a 4-3 lead over Fox with Paramount running third. As we head into the major categories, 'Out of Africa' has clearly got the momentum over 'Prizzi's Honor' . . . "). But Goldwyn does believe something can be done to keep viewers focused on the evening's trends.

"I want to get them focused on the suspense of the evening and never let go of it," he says. "When we sit and watch that show (in Hollywood), we keep track of what is going on. We have to keep the audience aware of it too."

"Prettier and wittier" are the objectives Goldwyn has given himself for the atmosphere of the 59th Academy Awards, and "trusting Oscar" is the theme he says he will follow in establishing a format. There may be fewer production numbers, but however many there are, he says they will be simpler, designed for the TV camera rather than the stage, and they will be thematically related to Oscar.

Goldwyn says his "marching orders" from academy President Robert Wise allow him to do anything he wants, as long as he includes presentations of all the awards and presents the best picture award last. He says he hasn't decided how the awards will be spaced, but he acknowledged that the second hour of the show is where things tend to bog down. And that's where he wants to cut the fat and add protein.

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