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TV REVIEW : Another Dose of Business as Usual

March 27, 1990|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Last year Snow White, this year the dwarf.

The telecast, that is--for Monday night's Oscarcast on ABC was surely no giant. Enough of the Allan Carr bashing. Say what you will about the gaudy, rouged-up, controversial and, yes, sometimes-grating Oscar awards that Carr produced last year, a program whose offbeat Snow White opening had many in the Hollywood community shrieking in protest, as if their own work was always so scintillating.

At least give Carr credit for trying to energize and steam the wrinkles from a tired body.

In contrast, Monday's Gilbert Cates-produced program was almost stately, a conventional telecast that was arguably an extension of an industry calcified by convention. If you're looking for a metaphor for the movie industry, try this: The telecast was business-like. Oh great, a business-like show.

Those global satellite feeds were a nice touch (even though Jack Lemmon and Natalia Negoda spoke in echoes from Moscow), but they were merely rare exclamation points in a very long sentence.

At times like this, you seek a second opinion. So at a commercial break I called my mother in Kansas City to get her reaction. "It's not bad," she said. "When it comes to the boring parts, I just read the paper."

So at the very least, credit the Oscars with promoting an informed America.

Meanwhile, threading excerpts from nominated movies through the evening, instead of lumping them together, diffused their impact and almost seemed to put them in limbo. The nominated songs were not presented very creatively. And even the evening's best production number--a choreographic statement in conjunction with the best-costume award--seemed muted.

A 45-second acceptance limitation was imposed on winners, but this lasted only until the first acceptance, from supporting-actor winner Denzel Washington, who got all verbose and took a minute. The acceptances were crisp. Although these acceptances have tended to drag on endlessly in the past, however, imposing a limit was probably a mistake.

That was evident when Jessica Tandy--rewarded with a best-actress Oscar not only for her performance in "Driving Miss Daisy" but surely also for her remarkable life's work on the stage--seemed so conscious of breaking the time rule that she aborted what was potentially the night's most dramatic moment by limiting her acceptance to a minute. From her you wanted to hear much more.

The telecast did open with a nice movie montage, and Billy Crystal showed again that he just may be the most bankable awards show host in the business. The man is really funny.

But not nearly as funny as the always electrifying Jack Valenti, who equated "creativity" with "big-grossing" films and labeled George Lucas and David Spielberg "new kids on the block." Like the cinema being big business is a new kid on the block.

The Oscarcast was an old kid on the block.

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