Is it over yet? Are they ever going to learn to do it right?
At 8:51 p.m. Monday, nearly three hours into the Oscar show, host Billy Crystal cracked: "Well, we're halfway there."
In this case, he was summing up a TV disaster because everyone knew "Dances With Wolves" was going to clean up, and the trick was keeping the rest of the show alive.
No such luck. It was a long day's journey into night for Oscar, one of the most effective sleeping pills of the year.
Well, yes, Madonna gave the awards show some pizazz, slinking and vamping through her "Dick Tracy" musical number like a woman who knew she owned the joint.
And she did.
Crystal, meanwhile, kept things on a roll for a while, but faded along with the show. Maybe his best line of the night had nothing to do with movies: "This just in from the FBI: 'We will not rest until every member of "Diff'rent Strokes" is behind bars.' "
But it's doubtful many people out there in the heartland knew or cared about his inside jokes about Disney film executive Jeffrey Katzenberg or the infighting at Paramount--or understood when he used the financial term "back end."
Genuine emotional moments were rare in this placid production. Kathy Bates, best actress winner for "Misery," choked up as she said, "I would like to thank my dad, who I hope is watching somewhere." And Sophia Loren's reaction as octogenarian Myrna Loy was honored for her lifetime work was touching--as was the audience reaction when Loren herself got a special Oscar for her work.
But the measure of the show was that old clips of Al Jolson singing and Loy in "The Best Years of Our Lives" were not merely window dressing, but almost held the awards program together.
The alleged theme of the Oscars was the 100th anniversary of movies, but somehow that got a bit lost along the way.
Crystal made a colorful entrance with a horse, a plug for his upcoming summer movie "City Slickers," in which he plays a New York yuppie who goes to a dude ranch and gets into a real Wild West adventure.
And ABC's opening credits got the name of the Native American actor nominated for "Dances With Wolves" wrong. It was Graham Greene, not Rodney Grant--also in the film, but not nominated.
However, one of the show's highlights was Michael Blake's acceptance of his "Dances With Wolves" screenplay award, in which he was accompanied by Doris Leader Charge, who translated his words into Native American dialect.
The first acting award, with Whoopi Goldberg collecting for her supporting role in "Ghost," didn't come until 22 minutes into the show. For the next few hours, there was little to lift the program up from its turgid, uninspired collection of thank-yous, not to mention a few too many honorary awards.
For that reason, the sight of Madonna and Michael Jackson sitting side by side actually became slightly interesting because not much else was going on.
Debbie Allen's production numbers were good, but took up too much time--although there was a nifty choreographed sequence for best original score, integrating the films "Avalon," "Dances With Wolves," "Ghost," "Havana" and "Home Alone."
For the most part, though, the best viewing of the evening was just looking at presenters Anjelica Huston and Glenn Close for the needed elegance they brought to the tiresome proceedings.
As usual, the Academy Awards in no way measured up to KABC Channel 7's pre-Oscar show, which annually is the hands-down funniest program on TV, a bottomless pit of nothingness that offers interviews with tolerant arriving personalities.
Steve Edwards and Tawny Little were the hosts of this enlightening hour. And while a few arrivals at the Shrine Auditorium lent some dignity--among them, Goldberg, noting that no black actress had won an Oscar since 1939--the tone was more nerve-end embarrassment.
Little also said that she didn't think "Dances With Wolves" was a Western, which I guess settles that.
In a brief spot from New York, reporter Roz Abrams suggested that Joseph Mankiewicz earned an Oscar about 60 years ago--for "All About Eve," she thought. Well, actually, "All About Eve" was a 1950 film, but what's 20 years more or less on a fine, hard-hitting news show like this?
And in true reporter-subject fashion, Little hugged Danny Aiello after their brief talk.
The KABC hour was preceded, by the way, by a ludicrous singing commercial for the station's news van. Then came Channel 7's pre-Oscar show. What a magnificent way to mark 100 years of movies.