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AN OPEN LETTER

Some ideas for the next Oscars show

TV critic Mary McNamara offers a few suggestions to the producers of the next Academy Awards. Hint: Think Emmys, George Clooney and vampires.

October 25, 2009|Mary McNamara | TELEVISION CRITIC

To: Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, producers of the 82nd Annual Academy Awards

From: A Concerned Viewer

So you're going to ask David Letterman to host, right? I mean, this is when everyone congratulates you on being chosen to produce the Oscars, the trickiest job in Hollywood, and then starts offering you suggestions on how to perk up those ratings. And Dave knows a little something about that. Since his on-air revelations about workplace sex and an alleged extortion plot, viewership for his late-night show has soared. And the Uma-Oprah thing may have fallen flat, but it may turn out to be the most memorable line ever uttered by an Oscar host.

I'm kidding, of course; Letterman can't be the host. Just by picking you -- Bill, the former Fox chairman, now head of Pandemonium Films, and Adam, former choreographer and director of "Hairspray" and "Bedtime Stories" -- the academy seems to be sticking with the course it set last year, the one that trades comic relief for extravaganza and big musical numbers. After all, as Adam keeps reminding everyone, the last time he was on the Oscar stage, he was wearing dancer's tights and a pirate's hat.

While I could have lived my entire life without that image in my head, I have nothing but respect for any man who would think to put John Travolta in drag and have him dance among the drying laundry with Christopher Walken; if Shankman can deliver something like that on Oscar night, a Nobel would not be out of order.

As I made clear in my review of the show, I was not a fan of the 81st Academy Awards telecast. I prefer my Oscars more streamlined, with less hoofing, more jokes and limited gold lame (same goes for pirate hats, Mr. Shankman). I don't think you should spend large portions of the Oscars ragging on the nominees about their low box office or complaining that the big hit movies didn't get enough love.

But maybe that's just me; many viewers loved the show, and the ratings did increase slightly, although it would be difficult not to improve on ratings from the previous show, which was almost preempted by the writers strike.

This year, the popular versus precious problem may be solved by the academy's decision to nominate 10 films for best picture instead of the traditional five.

Presumably, the summer hit "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" will still not make the cut, but the fabulous "District 9" might. The disaster epic "2012" is certainly pushing hard, and then there's the James Cameron behemoth, "Avatar," scheduled for release in December.

The gold standard for Oscar ratings is, of course, the year Cameron's "Titanic" swept. But even if "Avatar" is no "Titanic," the 82nd Academy Awards may be the first time teenagers and young adults have had any interest in the outcome since the glory days of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

So if Shankman and Mechanic are going to go musical, they might want to set up a series of lunches with Ryan Murphy or at least start power-watching his new show "Glee." The Fox hit manages to do precisely what the Oscars should: achieve a tone that is saucy and sincere while honoring disparate forces -- in "Glee's" case, talents like Amy Winehouse and Stephen Sondheim or Journey and Jerome Robbins, often in the same breath. If someone is going to sing "Tonight" at the Oscars, oh, let it be Rachel (Lea Michele) or Kurt (Chris Colfer).

Here are a few more suggestions:

1. Think Emmys. I know we still have to pretend that film is more important than television and so the Oscars must somehow have more heft than its small-screen counterpart, but this year's Emmys, which opened with a song, was exactly what an awards show should be -- quick-witted, funny but respectful, and relatively fast-paced.

Although the show's writers and many of the winners dealt with an industrywide concern -- the death of network television -- it came off as wry rather than whiny.

Along the same lines, although many, including my colleague Patrick Goldstein, think Hugh Jackman will be asked back to host the Oscars, I cast my vote for Neil Patrick Harris, who hosted this year's Emmys.

He may not be quite as swoony as Jackman, but he has the insider sauciness of a young Billy Crystal. And he can sing.

2. The uber narrative works. One thing I liked about last year's show was how it told a story about filmmaking, explaining, albeit simplistically, the process of things like set and costume design.

Though the same story probably won't work again, the sense of progression worked well.

3. If you're going to have a big musical number, please, God, let it have something to do with, if not the nominated films, then at least the films that came out this year.

I'm a big fan of musical theater, but this isn't the Tonys or a Liza Minnelli special.

Surely there is something fun you can do with Optimus Prime and other performances that might not be otherwise honored.

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