Can the Oscars be saved?


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‘Dreamgirls’ wasn’t exactly a hit at the Academy Awards in 2007, only scraping together two lesser Oscars. But could two members of the film’s creative team--producer Larry Mark and writer-director Bill Condon--help save the Oscar telecast, which has been in a steep decline in recent years, both in terms of network ratings and, even more important, in terms of creative malaise?

Academy chief Sid Ganis announced Wednesday afternoon that the ‘Dreamgirls’ duo got the nod to oversee the 81st Oscars, which air on ABC in February. For me, the real fun was seeing how the Hollywood media handled the announcement. Variety’s coverage was cautious and respectful, as befits its deferential approach to a lofty institution like the Academy. Tim Gray called the decision a big step in a new direction, writing: ‘Casting [Mark and Condon] as overseers of the show is a signal that the Acad did not want to go the ‘safe’ and familiar route.’ Gray interviewed Ganis, who said his lunch with the two men ‘turned into a mini-think tank,’ with Ganis adding: ‘I walked away from that lunch saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the two of them were willing to actually produce the show?’ ‘


Of course, Deadline’s Hollywood’s Nikki Finke, who is as vitriolic and hysterical as Variety is timid, reacted as if Ganis had picked Sarah Palin to host the telecast. Calling the move cronyism, she wrote: ‘This is precisely why the Academy Awards telecast sucks. Because the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences doesn’t seek out the best people, just its closest pals.’ Just how Mark or Condon are Ganis’ ‘closest pals’ she never says. Instead, she says the academy should pick a true outsider, suggesting, among others, Mark Burnett, the MTV Movie Awards people, James Carville, Roger Ailes or the Chinese government.

OK, I’m guessing Nikki was kidding about every name she had on the list, since someone like Burnett or Ailes would quickly turn the event into a People’s Choice Awards. And if she was serious about ‘the MTV Movie Awards people,’ then surely she hasn’t actually watched the show, which in recent years has been unbelievably craven and wretched beyond belief. But that’s Nikki, always killing a mosquito with an AK-47.

That’s not to say that I think Mark and Condon are exactly a radical, game-changing choice. Far from it. But I do think it’s a small step in the right direction. If the academy insists on having musical numbers clutter up the show, it needs people who actually know how to stage them well. And if Rob Marshall wasn’t available, I can’t think of a better pick than Mark and Condon. The academy demands class and they have it in spades.

As I’ve said before, the show needs a major face-lift that would drag it into the 21st century, starting with launching a second, cable-TV based show that could host the majority of the technical awards and serve as a springboard for attracting a younger audience by being free from conservative academy meddling. But if you can’t have a revolution, at least you can savor the idea of a thoughtful evolution, which is something Mark and Condon might just be able to pull off.