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THE 72nd ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

Making the Oscar Ceremony a Reflection of Today's Films

Television * Producers Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard D. Zanuck want to take the show into the new century by eliminating dance numbers and adding new music directors.

February 16, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faster, shorter and no dance numbers. That's the promise from the new producers of the 72nd annual Academy Awards, who are in the throes of designing a streamlined ceremony for viewers tuning in to watch the live telecast March 26.

"I hate to use this cliche, but we want to take the show into the 21st century," Lili Fini Zanuck says. Fini Zanuck is producing the show with her husband, Richard D. Zanuck. The duo have their own Oscar at home, one they received for producing the 1989 best film, "Driving Miss Daisy."

For the Zanucks, who have taken up the baton from nine-time Oscar producer Gil Cates, the Oscar telecast will be a night of firsts--their first go at producing an awards show and their first time overseeing a live broadcast.

"We want to reflect the motion pictures which are being made today," says Fini Zanuck, 45.

Reflecting the world of films today meant dropping one Academy Awards tradition from the three-hour show at the Shrine Auditorium--the dance numbers. In recent years, the huge production extravaganzas have been roundly criticized and, coupled with the equally traditional handful of overly long acceptance speeches, helped drag the ceremony past its scheduled running time.

"It's not that we have anything against choreography," she explains, "but it is not in film today. It was representative of our business when you still had dance numbers in film."

The Oscar ceremony will also sound different this year under the guidance of new music directors, Oscar winner Burt Bacharach and Grammy Award-winning Don Was.

"The reason why the music is changing is because soundtracks are changing," Fini Zanuck explains. "Everything doesn't necessarily lend itself to the standard orchestral interpretation. . . . We want to pick up the pace and give it a new look."

But not everything will be different. Billy Crystal is back for his seventh stint as the Oscar host. With his movie and song parodies, Crystal has proven to be one of the most popular hosts of the show.

It may be their first Oscar production, but Richard Zanuck says he probably has been present for more Oscar shows than anyone else. The 65-year-old producer began attending ceremonies as a young boy with his father, then-20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck.

"My father was always nominated and won three times and was given three Thalberg awards. Then when I was in charge of the studio, we had three best picture wins--'The Sound of Music,' 'Patton' and 'The French Connection.' I have been nominated three or four times and then Lili and I bagged one. I have seen it grow from a little humble thing to this huge mega television event." Last year's telecast averaged 45.6 million viewers.

Zanuck, who received the Thalberg Award in 1991, and his wife don't want to turn the Oscars on its head "entirely," he says. "But it is the first show of the millennium and that is really one of the reasons that attracted us to the idea of doing it in the first place."

The couple have also hired Joel Gallen, the brains behind the hip MTV Movie Awards, to do the 30-minute pre-show, which will feature arrivals and interviews.

"We want the entire evening to be a huge success, but it's very important to us that the pre-show works," Fini Zanuck says.

The biggest surprise the two have discovered so far is that producing the Academy Awards is far more creative than they imagined.

"In our business the biggest problem is that you are constantly in some state of hold. Motion pictures go very slowly, so all of a sudden to know when everything needs to be done by--all of those things are really satisfying," Fini Zanuck says. "The immediacy is really wonderful. It's fun and every day there is something we really look forward to."

Oscar Facts

Date: March 26

Location: Shrine Auditorium

Time: Pre-show is 5 p.m.; the Academy Awards begin at 5:30 p.m.

Network: ABC

Host: Billy Crystal

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