Seth MacFarlane backstage at the 85th Academy Awards. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Now that Seth MacFarlane has tweeted that he simply can't find the time to host the Oscars again, is it too early to say: "Tina Fey, come on down!"
"I think that's too hard," Fey tells The Times over the phone, when asked if she'd take the job. "Too many dresses to try on."
Really, Tina? You're going to go with the whole degree-of-difficulty dress thing as your primary reason to dodge the high-profile opportunity to flaunt your charm and talents in front of an audience of tens of millions of people?
Oscars 2013: Backstage | Quotes | Best & Worst
"Hey, don't underestimate how exhausting it is to try on 85 dresses — and 79 of them are humiliating," Fey says, laughing.
Of course, that's not why Fey, who memorably co-hosted the Golden Globes last year with pal Amy Poehler, doesn't want the Academy Awards gig. As jobs go, hosting the Oscars might be a little too high-profile with the risks (bombing in front of your peers and a huge television audience) outweighing the rewards. (See: Franco, James.)
As Alec Baldwin, who co-hosted the show with Steve Martin to no great acclaim in 2010, put it recently in a Hollywood Reporter interview: "Everyone who has done it lately has been crucified. So they're not going to get anybody who is reasonably talented or special to take that chance anymore."
It does seem risky. While other awards shows — the Tonys, the Globes and the Emmys, notably — have enjoyed a solid string of successes in recent years (Neil Patrick Harris, Jimmy Fallon, take your bows), the Academy Awards have been more of a hit-and-miss proposition. (And that's if you're feeling charitable.)
The show's rigid format — 24 award categories, 24 speeches, 24 opportunities to be played off the stage (unless you're an A-lister) — restrict the impact a host can have on the evening. Factor in the audience's jangled nerve endings — spending eight hours prepping to brave the red carpet gantlet will do that to you — and you have the makings of a long evening.
As 2009 Oscar host Hugh Jackman told The Times after his gig, the best you can hope for is a big opening because after that, "It's just a room full of people — increasingly upset people — who haven't won."
"It's a really difficult room," Fey adds. "High levels of stress are shooting out of just about everyone there. The Golden Globes are less pressure. It's like an exhibition game for the real season."
Oscars 2013: Winners/nominees list | Highlights
MacFarlane announced Monday, via Twitter, that he wouldn't be suiting up in his tux next year. "Traumatized critics exhale: I'm unable to do the Oscars again," he wrote. "Tried to make it work schedule-wise, but I need sleep. However, I highly recommend the job, as [Craig] Zadan and [Neil] Meron are two of the most talented producers in the business. My suggestion for host is Joaquin Phoenix."
So, now we know two things: 1) Producers Meron and Zadan asked MacFarlane to return, satisfied with the show's improved ratings and the job he did. And 2) MacFarlane's tweets aren't much funnier than the boob song he performed during the ceremony.
Of course, the reclusive Phoenix, who memorably took all of 17 seconds to accept his best actor award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. in January, isn't a likely candidate, even if the "Walk the Line" star's singing talents dovetail nicely with the producers' love for all things musical. Perhaps after having Catherine Zeta-Jones sing "All That Jazz" and bringing Richard Gere, Renée Zellweger, Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah out to co-present this year, Zadan and Meron might want to dip into their beloved "Chicago" pool once again and let the Queen reign solo.
Or maybe they won't limit themselves to projects they executive produced and try to goose the young demo ratings again by extending an invitation to a song-and-dance man like Justin Timberlake who's a multiple threat with a top-selling album and an upcoming performance in the new Coen brothers film.
What any prospective Oscar host must consider, beyond the time commitment and what Baldwin calls the "chicken feed" pay, is whether the effort is worth all the trouble. The show has defeated talent of all stripes, including great comedians (Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Chris Rock), musical-theater showmen (Jackman) and too-cool-for-school hipsters (Franco, though co-host Anne Hathaway made out a smidge better).
The prestige associated with hosting will always be alluring, but answering that siren song can lead to trouble. Or, in Franco's case, people wondering, because of his low-energy vibe, whether he spent the evening stoned out of his gourd.
"Here's the hypocritical thing: Leading up to the Oscars, I couldn't hear enough about how, 'Oh, people don't care about the Oscars anymore, it's dead, it's boring, it's at the end of a long awards season, who cares about it?'" Franco griped on "Letterman" after the ceremony. "Well, as soon as you don't host the way they want you to, they suddenly care and they won't shut up about it."
WINNING BALLOT: A list of the 2013 winners
PHOTOS: Best & worst moments
TIMELINE: Academy Awards through the years