Five of the last seven hosts to stand at the Oscar podium were doing it for the first time. Not so for this year’s choice, Ellen DeGeneres, who emceed movie’s biggest night back in 2007. That offers a chance to read some tea leaves for this year.
As her post-Seth MacFarlane turn will be in 2014, back in '07 DeGeneres came in as a steadying hand after a provocative telecast the year before (Jon Stewart’s zinger-filled 2006). DeGeneres generally gave producers and the audience what they paid for.
The talk-show host did the welcoming thing admirably — “cheeky but good-natured, far less barbed and sardonic” than other recent hosts, according to the New York Times.
She got off a number of good jokes. (''Most people had a dream of winning an Academy Award. I had a dream of hosting. Let that be a lesson to you kids out there: Aim lower.'')
And her red-suited presence gave the evening a perky feel as she walked the aisles bantering with Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, the year’s big winner (and, incidentally, also a potential contender this year). TV critic Tom Shales called her turn “crisp and unpretentious.”
But to many, DeGeneres also brought a lack of edge or surprise. Variety called her a "bland guide." The New York Post said, "In an ABC telecast that will likely be remembered as the dullest, most bloated Academy Awards ever, [Ellen] offered no edgy insults of nominees and almost no political commentary."
Her ratings were middle-of-the-road, too; wth 39.9 million viewers, the 2007 Oscars rated exactly fifth in total viewers among the last 10 years. It remains to be seen whether her social-media presence — she has a whopping 21 million followers on Twitter — can boost her numbers this year.
Historically, return hosts have tended to do well. Billy Crystal added to his audience in each of the first five times he hosted, and Chevy Chase added 5% to his audience on his second go-round back in 1988. But most sophomore hosts who do well tend to turn their tricks in successive years; a layoff can erode the effect. When Jon Stewart returned in 2008 after taking a year off (for DeGeneres), numbers plummeted by nearly 20%. And while DeGeneres is a daily syndicated-television presence, she will have been gone from the Oscar pulpit for seven years by the time March rolls around.
There's no way of knowing what tack DeGeneres will take this year, of course; it's possible she could try to edge it up. But given her longstanding and well-liked persona -- and the criticism producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron faced over MacFarlane last year -- don't bet on it.
One thing to keep an eye out for is length. At 3 hours and 51 minutes, the DeGeneres-hosted Oscars were the longest of the past 13 years.
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