Lorne Michaels; left, is still being considered for the Oscars telecast… (Chris Haston, NBCUniversal )
Despite last-minute maneuvering by outgoing Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak, "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon is no longer in talks to host next year's Oscars telecast, according to sources close to the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. But his boss, "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels, may still be in the running to produce the demographically challenged awards show.
Sherak initiated talks with the NBC late-night host just as his tenure as academy president was drawing to a close. Fallon, who garnered positive reviews as host of the 2010 Emmys, was considered a big draw for exactly the type of young viewers the Oscars broadcast has struggled to reach in recent years. Meanwhile, Michaels, who is also the executive producer of Fallon's late-night show, is widely respected in Hollywood for his ability to orchestrate a successful live show.
But negotiations with Fallon have now stalled mainly because of qualms from ABC executives and Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger. NBC's Fallon is a direct competitor with the Disney-owned network's own late-night star, Jimmy Kimmel. Even though Kimmel is already busy hosting the Emmys next month, the idea of giving his rival such a prominent platform on ABC did not sit well with network executives and Iger.
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Though Iger does not hold veto power over the academy's selection of an Oscar host, he does carry a lot of clout inside the organization. In December, the academy named him chairman of its $250-million capital campaign to raise money for a new museum in a former May Co. building on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus.
"The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures represents a bold new way of saving and presenting film history," Iger said when he was named to run the campaign, whose co-chairs are Tom Hanks and Annette Bening. "It will innovate not only the museum experience, but also the public's relationship to the art form."
Though Iger was opposed to Fallon hosting the Oscars as recently as last week, he is open to Michaels producing the awards show, according to a person familiar with the Disney CEO's thinking.
The Oscars have hired hosts from other networks before. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Johnny Carson did the honors for ABC — despite the fact that he was the king of late night with NBC's "Tonight Show." Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central's "Daily Show," hosted in 2006 and 2008. And Alec Baldwin shared the podium with Steve Martin in 2010, even though Baldwin is a star of NBC's"30 Rock."
However, the Fallon issue could be especially sensitive for ABC because his NBC show competes directly with Kimmel's, which ABC has worked hard to promote.
For Oscar officials, it's all about attracting younger viewers, said Brad Adgate, an analyst at ad firm Horizon Media.
"The audience profile of the Oscars is getting older each year, and I suppose the Academy Awards [officials] think Fallon will attract more young viewers," Adgate said. "Jimmy Kimmel, I am sure, is more preferable to the network."
In terms of mass audience, though, the choice of host may not even matter. Years of data reveal that the biggest determinant of Oscar ratings is the popularity of the movies nominated, not the emcee.
In 1998, the Billy Crystal-hosted year that "Titanic" won, more than 57 million total viewers tuned in, according to Nielsen. But in 2008, the year the modestly grossing"No Country for Old Men" took home best picture, 31.8 million watched — a record low. Stewart was the host.
[UPDATE: In a Wednesday appearance on the "Today" show, Fallon confirmed that he will not be hosting the Oscars. Read more here.]
Times staff writers John Horn, Ben Fritz and Scott Collins contributed to this report.
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