It's the safe choice. It's also the right choice.
Tapping Ellen DeGeneres to host the 2014 Oscar ceremony won't win the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences huge headlines, set social media afire or win acclaim for outside-the-box thinking.
But after last year's show, which saw first-time emcee Seth MacFarlane sing a song about boobs and take juvenile jabs at Jews, gays, native Spanish speakers, blacks and women ("For all those women who had the 'flu.' it paid off. Lookin' good!"), picking DeGeneres is a clear signal that the academy felt your pain and is determined to make amends.
FOR THE RECORD:
Oscar host: The Gold Standard column in the Aug. 3 Calendar section about the choice of Ellen DeGeneres to host the Academy Awards show next year referred to Seth MacFarlane as having hosted last year's Oscar telecast. MacFarlane's show presented awards for 2012 films, but the program itself was broadcast in February of this year. —
DeGeneres hosted the 2007 Oscars, taking a decidedly low-key, casual approach to the evening, which played to her comic style. She took to wandering out into the audience, chatting with nominees and, at one point, asking Steven Spielberg to snap a picture of her and Clint Eastwood.
It was, in a word, cute and won decent reviews, but few raves. For DeGeneres' return engagement, a concerted effort must be made to ramp up the evening's energy. (Can Adele be nominated again?) Unpretentious is one thing. Understated to the point of flat-lining is quite another.
DeGeneres' opening remarks that night, though, serve as an almost-perfect summation of why she won the gig again.
"What a wonderful night, such diversity in the room, in a year when there's been so many negative things said about people's race, religion and sexual orientation," DeGeneres said. "And I want to put this out there: If there weren't blacks, Jews and gays, there would be no Oscars, or anyone named Oscar, when you think about that.
Not bad. Certainly better than MacFarlane musing that he "would argue that the actor who got most inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth."
Now that a host is in place, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan need to take their conservative choice and craft a crisp, edgy show around her talent. Inevitably, when the academy decides to go bold with its hosts -- David Letterman, the pairing of James Franco and Anne Hathaway -- the show implodes because the performers don't know how to negotiate their way through the ceremony's rigid format and punishing length.
But with a veteran host like DeGeneres, who has also fronted the Emmys and the Grammys twice apiece, Meron and Zadan have the luxury of working with a pro capable of, as they say in the business, "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants."
Our advice: Rewatch DeGeneres hosting the 2001 Emmys, held, following a couple of postponements, just after 9/11. Look at the passion she brought to the evening. Look at the risks she took with the jokes -- jokes that actually worked. (Are those writers still available?) Look at her wearing that replica of Björk's swan outfit from the Oscars.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is an awards show that works. Take notes, start planning some suprises and, whatever you do, don't compare Ben Affleck to a Kardashian. He does not like that.