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Fingers reach for an Oscar

Oscar.com, that is. The academy is adding blogs, interviews, games and more to its website, hoping to build public interest and excitement.

February 13, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

Even Oscar can't fight the Information Age. The 79th Academy Awards has surrendered to the Internet, with a newly renovated Oscar.com. Think on-camera interviews with all 177 nominees, a blog from host Ellen DeGeneres and an Oscar night "Thank You Cam," through which winners can offer gratitude to anyone they neglected to mention on stage. Think "Find the 79s," an online game in which those who find all the number 79s hidden in the Oscar broadcast win fabulous prizes.

If hit TV shows like "Lost" can offer added features online, then so can the Oscars.

"We want the Oscars to be a two-screen experience," said Laura Ziskin, who is producing this year's broadcast. "I'm big on content, so I want to transmit as much content as possible. The website is natural."

Yes, DeGeneres will refer to the website throughout the show, and every time the broadcast goes in and out of commercial break there will be another mention.

"Research has shown that viewers of event shows, like the Oscars or the Super Bowl, watch them with their computers right there," said Bedonna Smith, the show's creative consultant. "We wanted to expand the experience, to leverage the themes of the show onto the small screen.

"All of the major sponsors of the website are holding sweepstakes," she added. "So it's very interactive."

If this year's ratings turn out worrisome, Ziskin and her team can always supplement them with website hits. According to a Disney/ABC spokeswoman, the traffic the site is receiving daily so far is already much higher than last year.

The Oscar website makeover comes at a time when traditional media outlets, including television and newspapers, are trying anything and everything to get their fair share of the YouTube audience. Oscar-related sites and blogs abound, although care must be taken when it comes to names -- the academy owns the copyright to "Oscar" and recently pulled rank on the 7-year-old site Oscarwatch.com, insisting the site change its name or be shut down.

Oscar.com has been around for a dozen years as a fairly static repository of lists, times and trivia. Log on now and you can watch a series of "real people" quoting famous movie lines; shadow stylists, shoe designers and jewelers on weekly "Road to the Oscars" reports; enter a Pick the Winners Sweepstakes; or read the Gold Rush, a blog describing the nuts and bolts of production. Or choose the best celebrity companion through the game Your Perfect Oscar Date.

During the broadcast, mobile phone users also will be able to download a backstage blog and highlights from DeGeneres' opening monologue.

In a week or so, DeGeneres will be posting a diary of her preparations, and, for those who care about the actual filmmakers, each nominee will have his or her own page, which will include an on-camera interview by documentarian Errol Morris.

"We really wanted to focus on the nominees this year," Ziskin said. "Which sounds redundant, but usually the focus is on the stars, who only make up four or five categories.

"So we sent everyone a questionnaire, asking about their background, how they got their jobs, what was the most challenging thing on this film, you know, to get their stories."

Some of that information, as well as clips from Morris' interviews, will be used during the broadcast; all of it will be available on the website.

"We want to give viewers things to root for," Ziskin said. "Like the Olympics' 'Up Close and Personal.' Only I can't do 'Up Close and Personal' for 177 nominees during the show."

The backstage Thank You Cam is a feature she hopes will serve two purposes: offer the fans a few backstage moments with the winners, yes, but also give the winners an opportunity to read their tedious lists of producers, agents and studio executives online rather than onstage.

"I told them at the nominees lunch that if you need a list, you aren't thanking the right people," Ziskin said. "These are people at the pinnacle of their talents. They know how to make a great show, an entertaining show. And I told them that if they don't, the Oscars will just go away.

"OK, maybe I'm being a little hyperbolic. But there are so many other awards shows, if we don't give people a reason to watch, I could see the Oscars on some cable channel."

Or, if the website should prove to be too successful, the entire show could soon be "Exclusive to Oscar.com!"

Now, if only online visitors could vote....

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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