Why Cohen, Mischer Passed the ‘Audition’ to Oversee Oscars

AMPAS breaks with tradition by choosing producers early and looking outside the film world

Apparently, Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer passed the audition.

Now, it’s certainly unfair to last November’s inaugural Governors Awards to refer to the ceremony as an audition – but given that the producers of that non-televised event were Tuesday handed the reins to next February’s 83rd Academy Awards telecast, it’s safe to say that AMPAS officials liked what they saw from the pair.

The Governors Awards were a lot of things the Oscars can’t be: leisurely and informal, with lengthy toasts and five-minute film clips and no time limit on the speeches. Quentin Tarantino ranted hilariously, Lauren Bacall rambled movingly, and it took Cohen and Mischer three-and-a-half hours to hand out four awards.Governors Awards

But most observers (clearly including AMPAS president Tom Sherak) found the awards a refreshing, low-key ceremony longer on history and artistry than on the big show’s pomp, circumstance and pressure.

(Pictured, at the Governors Awards: honorees Roger Corman and Bacall, Bruce Cohen, honoree Gordon Willis.)

In opting for Cohen and Mischer to produce the Oscars, Sherak continued what is now a three-year pattern of pairing two producers. 

The trend started in 2009 with Bill Condon and Lawrence Mark, and continued this March with Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman (who had never worked together before landing the assignment). 

But in a couple of substantial ways, Sherak has also broken with tradition.  A couple of days after March’s Oscars, he told theWrap that the usual practice of choosing the show producer in late summer or early fall, after the Academy president is elected, simply doesn’t leave enough time for the producer to do the work. 

“I think that you‘re very much hamstrung by waiting until September or October,” he said.  “ … I would go looking night away and hopefully announce that producer sometime in early summer. And let them get their house in order.”

A change of even more significance might be the choice of Mischer, which answers one of the most common criticisms of the Oscar show.  For most of its history, the Academy Awards have been produced by people from the film world, not the TV world; that’s one reason, writers like Patrick Goldstein have long charged, that the show often works better as a live event than a television program.

As an Oscar winner for producing “American Beauty” and a nominee for “Milk,” Cohen has the necessary film pedigree.  But Mischer is a TV vet through-and-through, with 15 Emmy Awards and not a single Oscar nomination – or, for that matter, a single feature film on his extensive resume. 

To find another Oscar show producer so thoroughly grounded in television rather than film, you have to go all the way back to Jack Haley Jr., whose experience was largely in TV when he produced three Oscar shows between 1974 and 1984.

But Mischer, who AMPAS says also plans to direct the show (another serious break with tradition), clearly knows how to put on a TV show.  That factor that obviously carries increasing weight with Sherak and the Academy – and also with ABC, which was reportedly not thrilled with Mechanic’s and Shankman’s Oscar show, although it did garner impressive ratings.

And if the well-liked and widely-admired Mischer  showed with the Governors Awards that his talents (along with those of Cohen) could be put in the service of a show devoted to the movies, so much the better.