Billy Crystal Says He’d Host a ‘Fresh’ Oscars — What Do You Mean, Billy?

The comic wants categories eliminated — and how fresh could it be with the most frequent host of the past two decades?

Billy Crystal says he's willing to host the Oscars again … but only if the Academy makes changes to freshen up the show.

As for exactly how that freshen up  thing would work when the your emcee is the most frequent host of the past two decades, Crystal offered no details.

And while Academy president Tom Sherak told TheWrap that a review committee would likely recommend Oscar-show changes to the AMPAS Board of Governors at its next meeting, he didn't know what those changes might be.

The comic actor made his comments on Thursday night in Phoenix, where he introduced Muhammad Ali at a fundraising event for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.

Billy Crystal"I think the show needs to change," said Crystal, who received a standing ovation when he took the stage of the Kodak Theater midway through last month's Oscar show, which was hosted by a disconcertingly perky Anne Hathaway and a nearly comatose James Franco.

"There's too many awards and it has to sort of freshen itself up," Crystal told the Associated Press, "and if I can be a part of that, that would be great."

The first question that presents itself is this: What exactly does he mean by "freshen itself up," and how would he be a part of that?

Crystal's Oscar trademarks – an opening film that inserts him into the year's movies, an elaborate entrance, song parodies of the Best Picture nominees, a sequence where he tells us what the stars are really thinking – are iconic and often very funny, but they haven't exactly been fresh  since Bill Clinton's first term. 

The second question: would the Academy eliminate awards for any reason at all, even if it serves to entice Billy back?

Crystal's only specific criticism – "too many awards" – has been a sticking point with the Academy for years. The organization is made up of 15 branches, all of which (except for the Makeup Artists & Hairstylists Branch) are represented by three seats on the AMPAS Board of Governors.

In other words: the Sound Branch gets just as many votes as the Actors Branch, and you'll move their Oscar categories off the air over their dead bodies. Proposals to eliminate categories or move awards off the show have been floated in the past, but none have succeeded.

(The last time one of those proposals got any traction was in the early '90s, when the board announced, and then rescinded, a plan to eliminate the documentary short and live-action short categories.)

"I don't see [category eliminations] happening at this moment," Sherak said on Friday. "We have a review process every year, and it is an idea that comes up every year. But those awards are who we are."

An Academy committee is currently reviewing the show, said Sherak, and will likely make recommendations to the board at its next meeting, which he believes will take place in June. And everyone involved, he added, is aware that Hathaway and Franco didn't gel — but that doesn't necessarily mean that the committee will recommend returning to the practice of hiring a comedian like Crystal to host.

"The two people tried very very hard," he said. "They didn't work. We know that.

"Does that mean the host has to be a comedian? I don't know. I could think of a lot of people who could pull it off, even though it's harder for an actor to feel the audience the way a standup comic can."

As for a recent, anonymous grumble from a board member that the governors should be consulted on the choice of Oscar host, Sherak dismissed that idea immediately.

"God formed a committee to design the horse, and that's why the camel came first," he said with a laugh. "The producers of the Oscar show pick the host. I don't think that should change." 

Billy Crystal 2004If the failed Hathaway/Franco experiment does make the Academy more likely to go back to a comic as next year's host, even Crystal is not without his drawbacks: His trademark bits have long made him the emcee who takes up the most time onstage. Without eliminating categories, it'd be almost impossible to bring in a Crystal Oscars anywhere near the 3:10 running time of this year show.  

But if Crystal envisions himself as riding to the rescue of a tottering Oscar show, that might be because he's already done that once before. He was first hired to host by producer Gil Cates in 1990, in the aftermath of a disastrous show produced by Allan Carr.

That was the show that infamously featured Rob Lowe and Snow White duetting on an appalling version of "Proud Mary." The show did not use a host; a special review committee established to examine what went wrong recommended that a single host be used whenever possible.

Crystal's four-year run as host, which began in 1990, won near-unanimous acclaim and established him as the gold standard for modern Oscar hosts. He returned for consecutive shows in 1997 and 1998 – but he's only hosted twice since then, the last time coming seven years ago (AMPAS/HO photo, above).

His success also meant that the Oscar show producers tended to look for hosts who had backgrounds as standup comedians: Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart all handled the gig in years when Crystal was not available.

(And make no mistake, Crystal was often asked to return, as he sometimes seemed quite eager to point out to the press.)

But producers Bill Condon and Lawrence Mark broke the standup-comic-with-movie-experience mold when they hired Hugh Jackman to host the show in 2009; when that turned out to be the best-received Oscar show in years, it emboldened future producers to look to actors rather than comics as well.


Your move, Academy.