Oscar 'Plan A' is underway

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With just 12 days before the Academy Awards telecast, show producer Gil Cates gathered his troops at the Kodak Theatre on Tuesday afternoon.

The kudoscast congregation included makeup artists and security guards, stage managers and valets, along with ABC executives, all assembled to map out what Cates called the star-studded "Plan A."

After weeks of planning two shows -- a writers-strike-afflicted, celebrity- and writer-free version ("Plan B") and one in which writers could participate ("Plan A") -- Cates and his staff were excited the ceremony would go off as hoped. The animated chatter in the room was so loud that Cates had to call for everyone to "settle down" so he could get started.

Some of the noise may have been nervous chatter, as the staff this year has to pull off portions of the show in half the normal time.

Typically, at this point, scripts have already been delivered to the talent. This year, the strike prohibited any writing to begin until the negotiations are resolved on Wednesday -- just days before the broadcast airs. As a result, actors will be getting their scripts much later than usual.

Dennis Doty, the producer of the Academy's televised red carpet show, stressed that the production staff had been working for months on two separate shows. Now, they could focus on one, making their jobs easier to some degree.

"It was a lot of fun when we were doing two shows at once," he said, with no apparent irony. So-called "Plan B," Doty said, "had everything but the stars."

Nevertheless, he added that "it's terrific to focus on the real deal. At the end of the day, stars and pretty dresses -- that's what the public wants to see."

Still, Cates was as charming as ever, cracking up the reporters, poking fun at ABC's standards and practices rep -- that included shouting an obscenity into the mic when the rep introduced himself to the room -- and joking with the crew, many of whom have been with the producer for every one of his 13 shows.

"This is a very festive event because we're all so pleased three months of striking is behind us," Cates told the crowd.

Before the meeting, the production staff studied a small replica of this year's Oscars set. It was clearly a homage to the awards' early days, with an Art Deco feel, large silver columns and what appeared to be a Hollywood Bowl-style shell framing the stage.

A tiny figure depicting Nicole Kidman in a crimson gown gave a sense of the massive scale of the set. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire could have waltzed right in.

The production planning meeting was closed to the press. But Cates reassured everyone he had some surprises up his sleeve.

"We're all relieved we're able to do the show everybody expects," he said.

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