The 2019 Academy Awards ceremony has been plagued by issues for months, beginning with the resurfacing of the planned host Kevin Hart’s past homophobic jokes and continuing to ongoing confusion about which awards will actually be presented on television. But new ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke says she’s confident the show is in good shape.
“I have to be honest, it did,” Burke told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday when asked if she had been worried about the seemingly endless drama surrounding the network’s flagship awards show. “It no longer does.”
“I ironically have found that the lack of clarity around the Oscars has kept the Oscars in the conversation. And it’s been really compelling. People really care,” Burke said.
Back in December, Kevin Hart was announced as the planned host for this year’s ceremony, but was quickly forced to step down after old homophobic jokes from his stand-up and on his Twitter account were resurfaced on social media. The Academy has since shifted plans, saying the show will instead go host-less this year.
Burke said presenters will instead drive the broadcast — a list of names she described as “phenomenal and growing” — and the lack of a host doing a introductory monologue and recurring bits throughout the show will help keep the runtime down to its new, reduced target length.
“The main goal, which I was told the Academy promised ABC last year after a very long telecast was to keep the show to three hours. So I think the producers wisely decided not to have a host,” Burke said.
But a number of other decisions by producers have also had longtime Oscar-watchers up in arms, including since-reversed plans to award a “Popular Film” category and to perform only two of the five Best Original Song nominees on the show.
Some have also objected to the decision to award a few of the smaller categories during the commercial breaks, with acceptance speeches cut together into a montage to air later in the show. Even Burke is unclear on which winners won’t get to accept their awards on live TV.
“I cannot [say] because I have no idea,” Burke said when asked, adding that she is meeting with producers and will hear a full plan for the broadcast “later this week.”
Regardless of the ongoing confusion, Burke said she’s confident in how the show will perform and is buoyed by the outrage, which she said simply shows how much viewers still care about the Oscars.
“To me, that’s evidence of how relevant the Oscars still are, that people are still talking about and caring about these things. I’m happy that it’s still part of the conversation and that there’s speculation,” she said.
Burke pointed to nominees that were hits at the box office, like “A Star Is Born” and “Black Panther,” and performances from stars like Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar as reasons she expects viewers will still tune in.
“I think particularly this year, given how many nominees are blockbusters, that we will hopefully see people tuning in throughout the show to see who’s going to win those [big] awards,” Burke said.
“Awards show ratings are trending downward across the board,” she continued. “So it is a challenge, and one that I think we have to keep very vigilant about, making sure that the show stays relevant and entertaining at a pace and a length that is good for the audience.”