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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Calendar Goes to the OSCARS : Whoopi, Better Naughty Than Boring : Awards: Goldberg fails to hit a funny bone or stir up any of the controversy that was hyped the week before the telecast. In fact, her hosting is balmy , particularly compared to predecessor Billy Crystal.

March 22, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

So what did they think, she'd come out in whiteface?

"Everybody's really curious about what Whoopi will do and what she will say," said "Entertainment Tonight" star Mary Hart prior to Monday night's humdrum Academy Awards telecast on ABC.

All right, her private Friars Club roast turned out to be hotter than expected when her good friend, Ted Danson, kidded her by showing up as a minstrel. The overblown criticism of Danson angered her, and she said so. And four-letter words are no stranger to her stand-up act.

Yet just how Whoopi Goldberg acquired a week-before-the-Oscars reputation as an out-of-control, kick-ass neo-Howard Stern--compelling viewers to tune in and hear what outrageous things she would say--only Academy Awards hypesters know. The free-for-all buildup belied the passivity of her former late-night talk show.

In fact, the Goldberg who hosted the Oscars was about as uppity as the abused heroine she played in "The Color Purple."

Rather than rebellious , the word balmy comes to mind here, especially in comparing Goldberg to her predecessor, Billy Crystal, whose rapier comic skills are tailor-made for hosting awards telecasts. Crystal is a relentless joke slinger who quick-draws from the hip. Goldberg not only was uncontroversial--and who cared about that one way or the other?--but her humor wilted in a blessedly brief 3-hour-and-18-minute telecast (produced by Gilbert Cates and directed by Jeff Margolis) that screamed out for something dramatically comical to raise it from its deadly lethargy.

It happened only once: when the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion crowd gave a rousing standing ovation to Bruce Springsteen, compared to a relatively tepid one given special honoree Deborah Kerr. Now that was funny.

There were a few deeply emotional moments too, headed by the awards to Steven Spielberg and his "Schindler's List" and an emotional acceptance speech by best actor Tom Hanks (for "Philadelphia"). Rather than let the emotion of Hanks' remarks linger, however, Goldberg aborted it by slapping on her own exclamation mark. "I'm really glad we do what we do, man. We are amazing."

Not always amazing. Several of Goldberg's jokes (apparent ad-libs) were met by low murmurs instead of laughter, prompting her to plead at one point to the unresponsive audience: "Don't tell me I have to explain this. C'mon!"

And what of the "dangerous" Goldberg? "There haven't been this many show-biz executives so nervous sweating over one woman since Heidi Fleiss," she said about her reputation for controversy near the top of the telecast. If so, the sweat was unwarranted, despite the "aren't-I-naughty?" tone that Goldberg maintained throughout the telecast. "I'm an equal opportunity offender," she said.

Goldberg did take a shot at the Clinton Administration's relentless critic, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), urging Lorena Bobbitt to "please meet Bob Dole." Otherwise, there was nothing in this telecast--not the host or anything else--that was remotely offensive or even naughty. Or all that interesting.

An equal opportunity wet blanket.

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