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Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin: a couple of savvy insiders

November 04, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

What? Did Tina Fey turn them down?

Tuesday's announcement that Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will host the 82nd Academy Awards telecast brought joy to the hearts of those of us who still long for the days of Billy Crystal or Johnny Carson. I recently mentioned Baldwin as someone the academy should tap, but I must admit it was with the hope that Fey would be in the mix.

But then she is not costarring, as Martin and Baldwin are, in the upcoming "It's Complicated." (Nancy Meyers, to what entertainment goddess do you sacrifice?) Still, it's not too late, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences! Think Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Think Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour!

OK, I'm done. Fey was probably overcommitted or working on a Sarah Palin book. And with Ricky Gervais already snagged by the Golden Globes, Martin and Baldwin are a most tantalizing choice. The combination of Martin's experience (this will be his third time hosting) and Baldwin's multiple-Emmy-winning straight man style promises an evening of urbane wit, spot-on silliness and perhaps some banjo playin'.

Even their hair is complementary: Martin's trademark silver to Baldwin's sleeked-back black.

Where Hugh Jackman brought a no-holds-barred theatricality to this year's broadcast, Martin and Baldwin will, one imagines, go more for deft patter and a been-around-the-block industry sophistication. Certainly, they are men of elastic talents who have proved themselves on the requisite stage, screen and television. Martin created the template for the modern stand-up-turned-serious-movie-star, while Baldwin's career morphed from handsome young romantic lead to handsome older master of comedy. Both look quite splendid in a tux and both, I am certain, could participate in a dance number if it is required. (Memo to Baldwin: Remember the whole door shtick you brought to the ghastly Rosie extravaganza? Strike it from your memory at once. No doors at the Oscars.)

Most important, however, is their comfort level with television and the air of professional ease both have cultivated over the years.

Once professionally frenetic, Martin has recently taken roles that played upon an almost psychotic sense of calm.

And Baldwin has never been afraid to do anything, be it David Mamet, "The Cat in the Hat" or "Nip/Tuck." Even if what surrounds him tanks, he remains a pillar of entertainment, capable of surviving even the horror of having his ill-chosen phone messages replayed ad nauseam.

Together, they have played to virtually every sort of house in every sort of role -- if nothing else, they will no doubt be the most unflappable hosts in Oscar history.

For Martin, of course, it's old hat. His spontaneous riff after an onstage crash caused by a crew member's falling cellphone interrupted the telecast is the stuff of Oscar legend. It's live television, people, so it's nice to have television people in front of the camera.

Having two hosts instead of one opens up all sorts of possibilities, and not just in the costume-change department. It's a long night and a big stage; even the most energetic host can seem small and lost (David Letterman) or dutifully chugging to the finish line (Jon Stewart, though I say it with love because he always made me laugh).

Of course, much depends on the chemistry of the two involved, but even without Fey, it's hard to imagine this pair fumbling.

With any luck, they will not only shepherd the by-nature unwieldy show through its multiple hours with minimum bumps and dead air, but they'll also do it with the old-fashioned insiders' charm that made the academy want to put the event on television in the first place.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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