More than a month after choosing and then losing Kevin Hart as the host of the 91st Academy Awards, the Academy and the Oscar show producers are moving ahead with plans for an Oscars without a traditional host.
But their plans are also informed by one glaring fact: Even if this year’s Oscars had a host, there won’t be time on the show for that host to do very much.
That’s why the prospect of a hostless Oscars isn’t as daunting to the Academy, producer Donna Gigliotti and co-producer Glenn Weiss as it might have seemed five or 10 years ago — because what’s the point of booking a marquee host if that person won’t be able to make an impact?
The Academy declined to comment on the host situation — but according to people close to the show, the expectation at this point is that they will not replace Hart, who dropped out in early December after a furor over some past homophobic tweets. His experience made the prospect of hosting, always a daunting one, even less attractive to potential replacements — and when Ellen DeGeneres publicly (and unsuccessfully) lobbied for Hart’s return, she quickly moved from a possible replacement to an Academy pariah.
At the same time, though, the fact that this year’s show is being revamped to save time makes the absence of a host less pressing than it might have been.
In August, after years of declining ratings and pressure from ABC, AMPAS president John Bailey and CEO Dawn Hudson sent Academy members an email in which they promised a three-hour awards telecast.
The last Oscars show that ran for less than three hours was in 1973, when “The Godfather” was named Best Picture in a two hour, 38 minute show. Since then, every show has run longer than three hours, and three have passed the four-hour mark. The last 10 Oscar shows have averaged three hours and 35 minutes, with only three (2009, 2011 and 2012) coming in at or under three-and-a-half hours.
So to reach the goal of handing out 24 awards in three hours, Gigliotti and Weiss will need to do some some significant pruning to the typical Oscar show model. “That show doesn’t exist anymore,” said one insider.
In the past, Oscar shows have typically been made up of 12 acts separated by 11 commercial breaks; together, the commercials take up about 35 minutes of airtime. The 24 different awards occupy a minimum of about 100 minutes, including the time introducing presenters and walking to the stage; recaps of the Governors Awards and Sci-Tech Awards add another five minutes minimum. Film clips, which are often beloved by Oscar show producers, can add another 20 minutes. So can musical performances, unless the nominated songs are severely truncated or eliminated.
A strict three-hour show would be completely filled by those elements, leaving no time for a traditional host to deliver an opening monologue (which runs about 10 minutes most years) or stage a giant selfie or send out for pizza or bring in a tour group.
The Academy has already announced that it will hand out some of awards during commercial breaks and then edit the presentations into the show, which will presumably save time by eliminating the presenter chit-chat and the hugging-and-walking parts.
Another way to save time would be to eliminate performances of the nominated songs, which has been done a few times in the past. But this year, that would most likely be a disastrous choice.
As the Academy, Gigliotti and Weiss know well, the Best Original Song nominees this year will likely include “Shallow,” the “A Star Is Born” anthem performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, as well as Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars” from “Black Panther,” at least one song from “Mary Poppins Returns” performed by Emily Blunt and/or Lin-Manuel Miranda, “I’ll Fight” from “RBG” performed by Jennifer Hudson, and potentially songs by Dolly Parton, Troye Sivan and even Radiohead’s Thom Yorke.
The Academy’s research shows that performances from name artists are among the Oscar show elements that click most strongly with viewers — and unlike the happy accidents that become viral moments, performances are an element of the show that can be promoted in advance to build up viewership.
So this year in particular, the Academy and the producers know that eliminating or truncating the nominated songs would not be a smart move. That means they’re left with the prospect of reinventing the Oscar show as a leaner presentation in which the role of a host would be diminished even if they had one, a presentation in which it makes sense to abandon the idea of a traditional host in favor of something new.
Could it backfire? Sure: The last time the Oscars dispensed with a host was the disastrous Allan Carr-produced show of 1989 — but that show opened with a monstrous 12-minute production number (you might remember the part with Rob Lowe and Snow White) and later included an even more monstrous 15-minute number.
The kind of things that doomed that hostless Oscars (which, by the way, ran a relatively concise three hours and 19 minutes) are definitely not on the table this year. So in 2019, we may be looking at a new Oscars motto: “No host? No worries.”