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Academy Settles on Jon Stewart to Host Oscar Show

January 05, 2006|Steve Pond and Scott Collins | Special to The Times

Jon Stewart, the Emmy-winning host and co-writer of Comedy Central's mock newscast "The Daily Show," today will be named host of the 78th Annual Academy Awards, three sources familiar with the selection process said Wednesday, ending months of speculation about the show's next emcee.

Academy officials and longtime Oscar producer Gil Cates have settled on Stewart, 43, who hosted the Grammy Awards in 2001 and 2002, the sources said.

One of the sources, who has first-hand knowledge of the situation, said that officials contacted Stewart shortly before Christmas and that the deal was wrapped up in a flurry of activity a day or two before the holiday.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences planned to announce the host early this morning. A spokesperson declined to confirm Stewart's selection or comment further.

The academy and longtime broadcast partner ABC have in recent years battled a sharp erosion in Oscar viewership among young adults, those most sought by advertisers.

Although the Oscars are typically second only to the Super Bowl in their ability to draw a large TV audience, the size of that crowd is often influenced by the popularity of the films nominated for best picture. Last year, when Clint Eastwood's relatively small-scale "Million Dollar Baby" was honored, an average of 42.1 million viewers watched, down 3% from the previous year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Unlike such perennial Oscar hosts as Bob Hope and Billy Crystal, Stewart -- who once told "60 Minutes" that he dropped his real last name, Liebowitz, because it "sounded too Hollywood" -- does not have an extensive movie career (his credits include "Death to Smoochy" and "Half Baked") and is still an unknown quantity to many Americans. But his "Daily Show" perch has made him one of the hottest commodities on cable.

Stewart will be hosting the Oscars in a year when several of the best-picture contenders are small, specialty films with political messages, including "Brokeback Mountain," "Capote," "Syriana," "The Constant Gardener," and "Good Night, and Good Luck."

It's expected that Stewart will take at least one week off from "The Daily Show" to prepare for the Oscars, and that some of show's writers will help write jokes and other material.

In November, a representative for Chris Rock confirmed that his client had not been asked back as host. Rock was credited with helping boost the ratings last year, but the academy's executive director, Bruce Davis, has admitted to hearing complaints from some academy members about the comic's performance on the show, during which Rock memorably riffed on Jude Law's shortcomings.

Times staff writer John Horn contributed to this report. Pond writes the "Oscar Beat" blog for The Times' award site TheEnvelope.com. Collins is a staff writer.

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