How the Oscars Bungled This Year’s Show So Badly, and Where the Academy Goes From Here

The Academy’s foolish plan was based on one giant, flawed assumption: that there’s a sensitive way to create a second-class group of categories

89th Oscars Academy Awards

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences learned something important on Friday, when it reversed course and decided to present all 24 awards on the air during this year’s Oscar ceremony.

It’s the Oscars, dammit, and the Academy needs to act like it’s the film world’s biggest night.

When the Academy told its members that four categories — Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Live-Action Short — would be presented during commercial breaks and then edited into the show, the board was seemingly unprepared for the furor that would follow.

And when the Academy responded on Wednesday to the widespread condemnation from filmmakers, guilds, agencies and fans, it blamed everything on a misunderstanding, on “inaccurate reporting” and “misinformation.”

Even though everybody in Hollywood seemed to hate the idea, the Academy stuck to its guns until Friday, fully convinced that if people could only see what the edited presentations were going to look like, they’d get on board.

Of course, AMPAS wasn’t going to actually show anybody outside the Academy what those presentations would look like — it wanted us to take it on faith that the off-air categories would be presented respectfully.

The organization persuaded the executive committees of six Academy branches to go along with the idea, with cinematographers, film editors, makeup artists and hairstylists, short films and feature animation, production design and costume designers volunteering to be considered for off-air awards during the first year. (A member of one of those committees told TheWrap that they felt pressured into doing it, but they went along anyway.)

But it couldn’t persuade the rest of Hollywood that this would be a good idea — and, crucially, it couldn’t persuade the vast majority of its own members that it was a good idea.

That’s probably because the argument that people were rushing to judgment without knowing how things would be implemented was based on one giant, flawed assumption: that there’s a good way (or least a sensitive way) to hand out four Oscars categories during commercial breaks.

Let’s face it: The Oscars are not the Golden Globes, which makes it clear it only cares about stars by not having any below-the-line categories; or the Critics’ Choice Awards, an organization of writers so desperate for TV exposure and TV money that they present the writing awards off the air; or BAFTA, which delays its broadcast by two hours so it can edit down or edit out some of its categories; or the Emmys, which has two whole separate shows for most of its 100-plus categories; or the Grammys, which long ago rebranded itself as a music performance show with all but a handful of the biggest awards handed out in a different venue before the show even begins.

No, this is the freakin’ Academy Awards, the show that wants to be respected as the gold standard for all awards shows, the undisputed Lord o’ Kudos. And if you want to be afforded that kind of respect, it helps to give that respect to everyone who gets one of your precious trophies.

And that’s why even if AMPAS had shown everyone the test edit, and it was done tastefully and respectfully, the organization would still have been battered by criticism over the very idea of creating a lower class of Oscar categories.

The Oscars want to be held to a higher standard; in fact, they demand it. Friday’s decision was when they realized that they are held to that standard.

And now what’s left of the vaunted plan, announced in August, to make this a faster, sleeker, more popular Oscars show?

The dumb idea to create a new award for popular movies lasted for about a month before it was tabled for more study. The not-bright idea of moving awards into the commercial breaks lasted for more than six months, but now it’s dead, too.

So what’s left of the big changes that ABC had insisted upon and the board had agreed on?

Oh, yeah — the vow to air a three-hour Oscars.

Well, here’s a tip. Hey, Academy, keep reminding yourself that this is the Oscars. Three hours would be swell — but if you’re behaving the way the Oscars are supposed to behave, we’ll cut you a little slack if you go longer than that.