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CALENDAR GOES TO THE OSCARS : Oscar Sets New Record for Hype : Crystal Is Funny, but Salute to Women Comes Up Short in Bloated Telecast

March 30, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

A stargazer's sweet dream? Yes. But there are so many awards shows on television these days that even the ones that matter don't appear to matter.

The desensitization process extended to Monday night's bloated, hype-smothered Academy Awards telecast on ABC: A long-winded three hours, 33 minutes of pretty good Billy Crystal and pretty lackluster Oscar ritual, including a tribute to women in film that--at a time when the industry's male bias is especially notable--seemed about as curious as celebrating the female perspective on the Supreme Court. As Barbra Streisand noted, better to have female-male parity than a fete of film clips intended to assuage feelings.

Meanwhile, production numbers came and went, presenters came and went, winners came and went, standing ovations came and went, haute coutre red ribbons came and went. And even though there were some shots of Jaye Davidson of "The Crying Game" in the audience, no one let the cross-dresser out of the hat.

Aside from Marisa Tomei winning the supporting actress Oscar, there were no surprises to shake up the program. A dramatic exception to the formulaic malaise was the evening's touching eulogy for co-Jean Hersholt Award recipient Audrey Hepburn, produced by Chuck Workman. Hepburn's global activism on behalf of children made an even more memorable video legacy than her career as a remarkable film actress.

For the most part, though, a creative abyss followed the opening monologue-medley of Mr. Monday Night Crystal, who joked with members of the celebrity audience and left the stage at different times to pump nominee Jack Nicholson's hand and to serenade soon-to-be winner Clint Eastwood.

And Crystal affirmed, as he had in his previous stints as Academy Awards host, that he can reel off one-liners from a TelePrompTer with the best of them.

Commenting on the pivotal surprise scene in "The Crying Game," Crystal said this proved "white men can jump."

Or was that an ad lib? Crystal's delivery is usually so seamless that it's often hard to tell.

Otherwise, this was a telecast whose threads were hanging. Why is it that an event whose purpose is to celebrate the best in film is itself so rarely worthy of celebration?

As always, the pre-Oscar coverage--where a lot is spoken but nothing is said--proved silly fun. With KABC-TV Channel 7's Chuck Henry and Pam Thomson leading the way, a predatory media reception line awaited arriving stars.

In this environment, Boris Yeltsin couldn't have gotten noticed unless he was hanging on the arm of Sharon Stone. And even then, TV interviewers would probably have mistaken him for a Russian film director.

"I'd like to know the secret of your ageless beauty," Henry said to best actress nominee Catherine Deneuve. "I breathe," she replied. It was just this kind of meaningful discourse that typified this Oscar foreplay that polluted the airwaves.

Otherwise, blustery overstatement prevailed. "The streets are starting to fill up with limos as long as blocks," KNBC-TV Channel 4's Paul Moyer said. As it turned out, the only thing as long as a city block was the telecast.

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