They've tried edgy and tinkered with experimental. But the producers of the
This year's Oscar show Sunday will bring back 2007 host
"It's the kinder, gentler Oscars," said Dave Boone, an Emmy-winning writer who has worked on more than a half-dozen Oscar telecasts. "It would be a surprise and a mistake if Ellen did what Seth did or what Tina and Amy did. That's not what this year's Oscars are about."
By offering a kind of television comfort food, the Oscars are hoping to consolidate their base, particularly women. Those viewers are more drawn to Ellen — they comprise the core of her 25 million-strong Twitter following — and less disposed to the tomfoolery that MacFarlane brought to last year's show, when bits like "We Saw Your Boobs" struck some as crude. The Oscars audience is typically more than 60% female.
But in its return to tradition, the telecast could be missing an opportunity to draw younger audiences. Last year, MacFarlane reversed a median viewer age that had risen steadily from 42 in 1993 to nearly 53 in 2012. His presence pushed the age down to 51.4, but DeGeneres could well pull it back up. If the median tops 2012's 52.8, it would be the oldest Academy Awards audience since they began keeping records.
The stakes are high for the Oscars and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that stages them. Outside of post-season football games, the telecast is the most-viewed program of the year, with advertisers this time around paying an average of $1.8 million for a 30-second spot, up 9% from last year.
Experts say that the academy is willing to roll the dice on DeGeneres because the talk-show host presents a safe, reassuring image within Hollywood — vital to attracting A-list presenters. Her ability to move between singing, dancing and joking provides a potent combination for audiences.
"Ellen can do the variety show in a way few people today can," said Tom Nunan, the veteran film producer and TV executive who teaches at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. "Producers might be on to something with someone like that — an incredibly durable presence who can fill those shoes for years to come, versus a name du jour who's learning on the job."
Or as academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs told The Times this week, "We love the idea of continuity."
The Oscars have long had a traditional undercurrent, exemplified by recurring host
Adding to the classic feel of this year's show, which airs on
Still, for all the appeal of familiarity, pop culture's interest in the next shiny face can be inhospitable to repeat hosts.
Conversely, rookie MacFarlane landed the second-highest rating in eight years, with 40.4 million total viewers, up 12% from the previous year. And one of the most popular shows in history was hosted by a panned first-timer —
Social media can enhance that must-see effect for contemporary awards shows, as the Golden Globes has found with Fey and Poehler bits, whose popularity on Twitter and YouTube drove a 10-year high in total viewers in January.
The "Titanic," audience, meanwhile, shows how a popular movie can juice the ratings. When the best picture nominees are also commercial successes, more people tend to watch the telecast.
This year, average box office for Oscar best picture nominees, $87 million, is the second-lowest in the five years since the category was expanded to increase the blockbuster quotient.
Producers will lean on hits nominated for lower-profile awards, such as the animated blockbuster
Stars can also make a difference — among this year's celebrity nominees are
"There's no longer one person who can bring together everyone," said Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media. "So producers look for a spectrum [among nominees] — Jennifer Lawrence as the very popular young actress,
Still, don't count on too much teen-friendly edginess, at least of the planned kind.
"At the Globes Tina and Amy did a joke about