By opting for "Family Guy" and "Ted" creator Seth MacFarlane to host the 85th Academy Awards, Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are reviving a time-honored Oscar tradition …
… that's been dormant for 71 years.
When he takes the stage of the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24 to emcee the Oscars, MacFarlane will join a not-so long list of predecessors best-known for something other than performing.
That list, in fact, consists mostly of producer and Academy president Walter Wanger, who hosted the show in 1941; director and Academy president Frank Capra, who did the chores in 1936 and 1939; writer Irvin S. Cobb, who emceed in 1935; and writer/director William C. deMille, who hosted or co-hosted the first two Oscar shows in the 1920s.
Otherwise, every single Oscar host from 1942 until Monday's announcement was best-known for a performing career. MacFarlane certainly has that kind of career, as a standup comic, an actor and even a singer, but in his case the performances have been overshadowed by his success as a creator and showrunner.
"Actually, we went back to 1941when we were planning this show," producer Zadan joked TheWrap on Monday. "We were looking for somebody to follow in Walter Wanger's footsteps."
In fact, said Meron, MacFarlane was one of the first names the producers came up with after they were hired to produce the show. And when they saw MacFarlane host the season premiere of "Saturday Night Live," he added, the appearance "just confirmed everything we'd been thinking about why Seth would be great."
In recent years "SNL" seems to be the Oscar-show's out-of-town tryout, with the majority of hosts tackling that gig before moving to the Oscars: Billy Crystal was a regular there, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were the show's two most-frequent hosts, and James Franco and Anne Hathaway won raves hosting "SNL" before they didn't win raves hosting the Oscars.
(In other words, it makes perfect sense that former Academy president Tom Sherak solicited "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels to oversee the Oscars, before that deal fell through and Sherak's successor Hawk Koch opted for Zadan and Meron.)
MacFarlane will also be the first person since Ellen DeGeneres in 2007 to make his first Oscar appearance as host. But he has hosted other shows in the past, including the Writers Guild of America Awards.
"When you host things like that or a Comedy Central roast, you find that each show has different needs," MacFarlane told TheWrap. "If there's one thing to remember, it's that you just want the audience to be comfortable, to feel like they're in your living room."
Among past Oscar hosts, MacFarlane said he thought Johnny Carson was the best. "The key is to be funny and current and speak to that audience. Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal were never dismissive of the ceremony, because people aren't fond of that. I've seen enough Oscar broadcasts to know that they want to be entertained, but they're also sitting there nervous, and they have a lot riding on that night."
Also read: Seth MacFarlane to Host Oscars
The bottom line, he said: "We're not going to turn the Oscars into 'Family Guy.'"
And as for the suggestion that MacFarlane is a choice designed to attract the young male demographic that the Oscars sometimes lack, Zadan dismissed it out of hand.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he insisted. "When Neil and I started envisioning the show we wanted to produce, we were looking for somebody who had the diversity of talent to pull off what we wanted to do.
"We never thought about demographics. We just needed somebody who was going to be fantastic in the show we wanted to produce."