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Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will team as hosts of the Oscars

It will be the first time since 1987 that the Academy Awards telecast will have more than one host.

November 04, 2009|Rachel Abramowitz

Hugh Jackman may not be returning to host the Oscars, but there still could be plenty of singing and dancing at the 2010 Academy Awards.

Only this time, the musical routines are likely to involve a banjo.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Tuesday that Steve Martin and "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin would serve as dual emcees of the 82nd annual Academy Awards, scheduled to be held March 7 at the Kodak Theatre.

In a year when the academy is expanding its best-picture nominees from five to 10 films, many expected that Oscar producers Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman would be contemplating ways to shake up the telecast, starting with the host. But the choice of the comedy stalwarts Martin and Baldwin hardly suggests a radical shift in the tenor from previous shows.

And though it's become rare to have performers share hosting duties, it's not unprecedented. In 1987, for example, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Paul Hogan collectively ran the show.

Academy President Tom Sherak said that from the beginning they were looking for a two-person team: "The idea was to get two people who will work well together, and who will bring different things to the night."

Martin, who has recently devoted himself to playing the banjo and touring with his bluegrass band, was an obvious candidate for the gig, given his experience hosting the 73rd and 75th Academy Awards.

He has also served as a presenter on the show several times, mostly recently with Tina Fey in February. He also has a history with Shankman, who has directed the comedian in both "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" and "Bringing Down the House."

Although this will be his first time hosting the Oscars, Baldwin is no stranger to the event either, having been nominated for a supporting actor Oscar in 2003 for his role in "The Cooler." He was also a presenter that year.

In an interview Tuesday, Shankman said that Baldwin almost crashed his car when he asked him Monday if he wanted to host next year's ceremony.

"He was stunned," said Shankman, laughing.

Shankman said he had seen Baldwin host the Elle Women in Hollywood dinner last month, where the two-time Emmy winner made cracks such as, "Movie actresses are so skinny that if I had a love scene I would crush them."

"I called Bill afterward and said, 'You should see what I've been seeing,' " recalled Shankman.

"I don't play the banjo, but I am thrilled to be hosting the Oscars," Baldwin said in a statement. "It's the opportunity of a lifetime."

Martin and Baldwin do know each other, having worked together on a 2008 episode of "30 Rock." The two will also play rivals fighting for the affections of the same women (Meryl Streep) in the upcoming Christmas release "It's Complicated."

In addition to their on-screen collaborations, they also have an ongoing mock feud over who's hosted "Saturday Night Live" more times. At the moment, the 64-year-old Martin is in the lead, clocking in at 15, while the 51-year-old Baldwin is nipping behind with 14.

"I am happy to co-host the Oscars with my enemy Alec Baldwin," Martin said in a statement.

Tuesday's announcement capped recent online reports that stars such as last year's host Jackman, as well as funnymen Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., had turned down the job. (According to Shankman, Jackman had already declined before this year's producers even began their search, and the Stiller and Downey scenario never went further than preliminary discussions with agents.)

Finding the perfect Oscar host isn't easy, said Oscar producer Mechanic. "People want to do things for their industry," he said, "but it's a live telecast in front of a billion people, and it's a really tough audience in it that it's all your peers in the auditorium. It's understandable that it's hard."

What remains to be seen is whether Martin and Baldwin can help the show's ratings, which many expect could improve with the expanded best-picture nominees.

The move from five to 10 films in that category potentially opens the Oscar race to such well-reviewed popcorn fare as "The Dark Knight" and "Star Trek," the type of films that have traditionally been shut out of Hollywood's most cherished artistic award.

Viewership sank to its lowest rating in February 2008, when the dark "No Country for Old Men" took home the top prize. Traditionally, the audience grows when the films in competition have popular box office appeal.

As a result of the 2008 slide, the rate for a 30-second commercial on the Oscars fell to below $1 million for the first time since 1998, according to the Nielsen company.

The Oscars, which are broadcast on ABC, provides the vast majority of the academy's revenue. In 2007-2008, the academy's Oscar revenue totaled $73.7 million, according to the organization's financial statements, $31.1 million of which went into staging the various Oscar events.

In 2009, however, the show's viewership actually edged up 13%, as some 36.3 million people tuned in to watch "Slumdog Millionaire" sweep the awards.

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rachel.abramowitz@latimes.com

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