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The Envelope: Behind the Screens

Putting a price on all that yap

January 23, 2006|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

The bad news for the Oscars coming off of last Monday's Golden Globes is that efforts to cure Hollywood's deadly 310 Syndrome have utterly failed.

Syndrome as in what happens when someone gets an award, then hogs the podium thanking an endless string of executives, producers and agents unknown outside Brentwood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Bel-Air, Santa Monica and other places in the 310 area code.

Deadly as in killing any reason a viewer wants to stick with the show.

Short of cutting to a commercial immediately after an award is announced, which will never happen, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should face the reality that it can never stop the water-torture-like thank-a-thons that can turn a good Oscar show into tedium.

So the solution instead should be to ease the pain by at least making some cash off the speeches. More on that later.

Last week's Globe ratings again showed that viewers don't want to sit through award shows that require listening to a roll call of Hollywood power players they couldn't care less about. The NBC show drew 18.7 million viewers, compared with nearly 27 million three years ago.

Don't buy into the spin about how ratings rebounded from a year ago, when ABC's "Desperate Housewives" scored a first-round TKO. Mediocre is only a shade better than stinks.

The award show thanking plague isn't lost on Oscar's producers. To their credit, they have long recognized that viewers in St. Louis are as familiar with studio executives Stacey Snider, Tom Rothman and Brad Grey as we are with the guy who runs that city's Monsanto Corp. (For the answer, see below.)

Virtually every year the academy lowers the boom on tedious speeches with the same effectiveness as colleges do in cracking down on fraternity drinking. The 45-second limit is about like the 65 mph speed limit: Some abide by it, but a lot of people don't.

Cueing the orchestra 46 seconds into a speech doesn't help a viewer who is ready to reach for the remote after 20 seconds.

The academy with a straight face once suggested that winners post their thanks on the Oscar website. Let's see: Stroke in front of a worldwide audience the fragile ego of a producer I need to do business with or post his name in some obscure corner of the Internet? Tough call.

So here's a proposal:

Start with the fact that a 30-second ad on the Oscars costs $1.7 million. That means anyone taking up his or her 45-second allotment is burning up $2.55 million worth of time that could be used to plug Hyundais.

Give winners 15 free seconds to thank their families. After that, the meter starts running for studios, agencies and producers who are mentioned at a rate of $56,667 a second.

A 30-second speech would then cost $850,000; a 45-second one, $1.7 million.

To offset the cost, studios could use product placement to help defer the costs. According to some experts, it's conceivable someone might pay $1 million to have a product thanked during a best picture acceptance speech but only $250,000 during a sound-editing one.

So if "Crash" were to win, the producers could thank Ford Explorer or Honda along with actors Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon and Sandra Bullock. Ortho could be "Official Thank You" for "The Constant Gardener."

Add-on costs would include a "gush and pretentiousness premium." Chalk up an extra $100,000 each time a winner calls a person, studio or script "amazing." One "creative genius" sets you back $250,000 more. Anyone who refers to Steven Spielberg by only his first name gets hit with a $300,000 bill.

Any speech taking more than 45 seconds has to pay overtime costs for the orchestra.

Figure on $200,000, minus 10%, for every agent mentioned. That should kill off the cliched "I want to thank everyone at CAA."

Charge $100,000 for thanking crews who worked on the film on location in Canada, discounted by the latest exchange rate. Add the price of an additional ticket when thanking someone looking down on the ceremony from heaven.

All told, the academy could reap a few million to put up with the ego strokes. And what now is a worthless exercise that chases viewers away would have at least some value.

Grin and bear it

Last week's column told how an elite club of documentary makers had already aced director Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" out of the Oscar competition because they didn't feel it was one of the 15 best out of 82, even though it was by far the best-reviewed documentary of the year.

On Wednesday, the oversight became even more absurd when Herzog was announced as one of the five finalists for the Directors Guild of America award for best documentary. Herzog isn't even a member of the guild.

Not nominated were directors of notable documentaries still in the running for an Oscar, such as "March of the Penguins," "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," "Murderball" and "Red Hot Ballroom."

Finally

The chief executive of Monsanto's name is Hugh Grant (seriously).

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