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Oscars in January?: Why ‘It’s a Terrible Idea’

AMPAS president Tom Sherak is a proponent of an earlier Oscars, but some of his members don’t like the idea

Tuesday’s news that the Academy is continuing to explore moving the 2012 Oscar ceremony to January didn’t cause as much stir as it did back when the possibility was first raised in June. But it has prompted some grumbling among AMPAS members worried about the logistics of an accelerated schedule — and skeptical that the move will give the show much of a ratings boost.

“It’s a terrible idea, and they need to understand that things like this are not going to bring back the kind of ratings they used to have, or the kind of ratings they want,” says one longtime member who did not wish to be identified criticizing an initiative that is seen as a pet project of Academy president Tom Sherak (below).

Sherak heads the committee looking into the change.Tom Sherak

“We are still the mother of all awards shows,” Sherak told John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. “But in today’s word, everybody wants it now. People don’t want to wait. You need to stay relevant.”

The move, if implemented, would be designed to hand out Oscars as quickly as possible after the end of the year, instead of two months or more into the new year, after a parade of other awards shows have already taken place.

Critics of the plan point out that the other shows all will simply move earlier in the schedule themselves, so that the Oscars will remain the final event in a rushed, and even more crowded, awards season.

“If they had to, NBC would move the Golden Globes to Thanksgiving to keep that show going,” said an Academy member who has worked Oscar campaigns in the past.

“I also think it’s possible,” said the member, “that shows like the Globes and the SAG Awards don’t hurt the Oscar ratings at all. They may actually help  build up interest for the Oscars.”

Sherak and AMPAS executive director Bruce Davis admit that the move might require Oscar voters to cast their ballots online, and perhaps to view some of the contending films that way as well.

To do so would be to make a decisive break with tradition. One of the selling points of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ old-fashioned method of tallying Oscar ballots by hand is that the process is immune to hacking or electronic tampering because the votes, and the results, are never stored on computers. 

As for the possibility of making screeners available online, several members expressed skepticism that most Academy members would want to view films on their computers, or would have the technology to play those streaming videos on their television monitors instead.

A few years ago, the Independent Spirit Awards tried to work with Netflix to create a password-protected website on which its members could stream nominated films. They abandoned the idea when, executive director Dawn Hudson told theWrap, “the technology wasn’t there to secure the films.”

(Password-protected streaming is currently used by some companies, though often with intrusive individual watermarking that makes films difficult to watch.)

A move to January would also put the Oscar show in a month that is traditionally very slow for television ad sales; February, one of the TV season’s annual sweeps periods, is typically far more robust. 

Outside of the Academy, Oscar-watchers did not dissect the news nearly as avidly as they had back in June – though Tom O’Neil at Gold Derby reprised the  argument he made then: “Oscar is running in the wrong direction. He needs to head back to late March/early April.”

Compressing the awards season, says O’Neil, makes the Oscars appear less relevant because “they seem to be just rubber-stamping the choices made earlier by the critics' awards, guild prizes and Golden Globes.” Pushing the Oscars back to March or April, he says, would give voters time to reconsider the conventional wisdom, change their minds and make more interesting choices.

The Refinery fashion website did come up with an unexpected ramification: a January Oscars could wreak havoc with New York’s annual fashion week, which generally attracts of coterie of stars: “We who bridge the two worlds of fashion and entertainment know this just means one thing: There will be a huge hole in the front seats where Oscar attendees like Carey Mulligan, Heidi Klum, and Jennifer Garner used to sit.”

The Academy, though, doesn’t really care about fashion week. It’s far more concerned about staying away from the Super Bowl, to the point where potential changes in the NFL schedule may yet have significant influence on any AMPAS plans.

And if those plans are far from set, some critics are resigning themselves to yet another in a string of changes that has already included expanding the Best Picture slate to 10 and allowing movie ads during the broadcast.

“I think this is a mistake,” says one member. “But I think it’s going to happen, because Tom Sherak really wants it to happen.”

Then again, maybe the Academy could take a different tack, and embrace an idea proposed on the Twitter feed of the Baltimore Sun’s arts and entertainment staff: “Heck, why not halftime of the Super Bowl?”