Craig Zadan, left, and Neil Meron will produce the 85th Academy Awards. (A.M.P.A.S. )
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have been preparing to produce the Oscars for a decade.
First the New York-born, L.A.-based duo, best known for producing stage-to-screen musicals such as "Hairspray," "The Music Man" and "Annie," would casually discuss how they would do the Academy Awards show should they ever land the gig. Those conversations turned into serious brainstorming sessions during which they would solidify specific concepts for the big night. And every year, the two partners would watch the show — waiting and hoping that their ideas wouldn't be executed by the producers actually at the helm of the telecast.
"'Oh good, they didn't do that,' we would say every year," Zadan said in an interview Thursday after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that he and Meron had been hired to produce the 2013 Oscars. "We thought: Once they do all the stuff we have in our minds, we will have nothing to offer. Luckily, nobody has done what we wanted to do. Now we can take out of the drawer all the stuff that we have been fantasizing about and start putting it together."
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The producing duo, who have been a team since the 1970s, will now work closely with recently elected academy president Hawk Koch to produce the Feb. 24 telecast. The event is a crucial one for Koch, who due to term limits has only one year to put his own stamp on the broadcast before a new president is chosen.
Zadan and Meron's work in television includes executive producing the NBC series "Smash," Lifetime's "Drop Dead Diva" and such TV movies as "A Raisin in the Sun" and the upcoming "Steel Magnolias."
In film, they served as executive producers on the 2002 best picture winner "Chicago," which was nominated for 13 Oscars and won six. They also produced 2011's "Footloose" and 2007's "Hairspray" and "The Bucket List." Zadan also produced the original "Footloose" in 1984.
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On Broadway, they produced the revivals of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" with Daniel Radcliffe and "Promises, Promises," both of which went on to win Tonys.
The appointment of Zadan and Meron comes after the academy tried to lure "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels to the show along with late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon. That idea fell apart partially because ABC, which broadcasts the Oscars, had qualms about showcasing NBC star Fallon as the Academy Awards host.
In the interview Thursday, it was clear that Zadan and Meron possess a genuine love for the annual event, and the two seem to be brimming with excitement over what possibilities the show offers. Yet neither was willing to discuss specific ideas, comment on whom they wanted for a host or even opine on segments of past shows that they liked. Yet they both seem uninterested in trying to lure in a younger audience, as other producers have attempted to do.
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Rather, their goal is to make a "wildly entertaining, classy and elegant" event, said Meron.
"No one has talked to us ever about demographics," said Zadan. "If you do the right show, you'll get the demographics."
Director Adam Shankman, who produced the telecast in 2010 and worked with Zadan and Meron on "Hairspray," thinks the pair has the right amount of showmanship for the job.
"They are true-blue showmen, and, I expect, will bring great entertainment value to Hollywood's most important night," he said. "I hope they've slept a lot this year, because that's all over until show night."
Last year, the academy had to scramble for a replacement producer and host in November. Brett Ratner resigned as producer of the show after coming under fire for making an anti-gay slur and his chosen host, Eddie Murphy, also stepped aside. Brian Grazer stepped into Ratner's spot and Billy Crystal came back as host.
While the 2012 show was heavy on theatrics, with a well-received segment featuring Cirque du Soleil performers, Grazer and fellow producer Don Mischer opted not to feature the nominated original songs in their entirety, feeling that the musical numbers would slow down the speed of the telecast. (That disappointed many "Muppets" fans who missed out on what they hoped would be Jason Segel doing a live rendition of the tune "Man or Muppet.")
Zadan and Meron were reluctant to divulge their feelings on the original song issue specifically, but they did say that music will factor into their show.
"We are going to have some music elements in the show," said Zadan. "We've done so many musicals, it would be foolish for us not to do something."