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OSCARS '99

Cinema's Super Sunday

The academy makes a break with tradition to move from busy Mondays. Officials hope in future to turn the event into an all-day extravaganza.

March 13, 1999|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The streets outside Morton's will still be jammed with limousines arriving for the star-studded post-Oscar Vanity Fair party.

Los Angeles police will still be out in force at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to keep screaming fans separated from the waving celebrities walking up the red carpet.

And, in the sky overhead, news helicopters will again hover like noisy wasps recording the glittering scene below as nominees dressed in designer gowns and snazzy tuxedos make their way past the paparazzi.

But something's going to be different about this 71st annual Academy Awards. For the first time in its storied history, the Oscars will be held on a Sunday night.

Shifting the entertainment industry's biggest awards show to Sunday will change the whole rhythm of Hollywood--and Los Angeles in general.

When the show was held on Monday nights, the stars not only had to get off work, they also had to fight the interminable rush-hour traffic gridlock that has become endemic to greater L.A.

"The city's quieter on Sundays," said Gil Cates, who is producing his ninth Oscar telecast. "Traffic to and from the Los Angeles Music Center will be better. The actors have Sundays off, so it's not a question of finding a star in L.A. It should make it into a bigger event than it already is, if that's possible."

Los Angeles police say their job will be easier. The throngs of spectators may be heavier than usual, but there won't be rush-hour hassles to contend with, police say.

"From talking to the planners on our side, it's going to go smoothly," said LAPD Capt. Sandy Wasson, who said more than 100 police officers will take up positions outside the Music Center.

Wasson said the American Civil Liberties Union has informed him that about 100 protesters are planning to demonstrate outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to protest an honorary Oscar being presented to director Elia Kazan, who went before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 and informed on fellow former members of the Communist Party working in the film industry.

By shifting the Oscars to Sunday night, academy officials hope that the show will become to movies what the Super Bowl is to football.

Academy President Robert Rehme said he envisions Oscar Sunday eventually becoming an "all-day event" with the media airing Oscar-related shows throughout the day and people getting together in groups to watch the telecast.

"Just like they have events all day long leading up to the Super Bowl, we expect the same for the Oscars," Rehme said. "It may take more than one year [to establish], however."

One major reason the academy moved the show to Sunday, Rehme said, was because viewers on the East Coast had to stay up past midnight if they wanted to see the final awards--including best picture--being given out.

"The ratings on the East Coast were a big factor" in the academy's decision to switch to Sunday, Rehme said.

Despite some of the highest ratings in years, Rehme said, "the ratings on the East Coast during that last half-hour affected the overall ratings. If we expect that to be improved, we decided to start a half-hour earlier."

Though the Oscars have always had terrific ratings, Rehme said, the overall ratings begin to drop off on the East Coast once the telecast runs past midnight. Now, he said, the show will start at 8:30 p.m. on the East Coast (5:30 p.m. on the West Coast), leaving a half-hour cushion for any spillover. And there is always spillover.

"The show hasn't been three hours in several decades," he said. "It's funny how people cling to that three-hour myth."

Cates said the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences always avoided Sunday nights because theater owners "thought Sunday was a big movie day and didn't want the Oscars to interfere with ticket sales."

To break with tradition and alert the public that the show will be on Sunday this year, the academy has publicized this year's show as "Sunday at the Oscars," and ABC is promoting the Sunday theme in its commercials.

It might seem that the film industry's gaudy celebration of itself has always been held on a Monday night. But, in fact, since the first Oscars were handed out in 1929, the event has hopscotched to every day but Sunday.

The first show was held on a Thursday night at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood and was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks.

From 1930 to 1932, the event was held in November--on Wednesday, Tuesday and Friday, respectively. In 1931, the eligibility period for films stretched from Aug. 1, 1931, to July 31, 1932. The next year, the period was stretched to 17 months to allow future Oscars to be based on the calendar year.

By the time Will Rogers hosted the sixth Academy Awards in 1934, it was switched to March 16, a Wednesday.

From 1936 to 1947, the Oscars were held on Thursday nights at venues ranging from the Biltmore Hotel to Grauman's Chinese Theater.

The first Monday night Oscars occurred in 1959 at the RKO Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

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