“We have a lot of great things in the show that are different and fresh and very exciting,” says Quincy Jones, producer of the 68th Annual Academy Awards, airing Monday on ABC. “I didn’t come here to do another show like they have done before.”
But the winner of the 1994 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is keeping pretty mum on all the hip surprises he has in store for the approximately one billion viewers worldwide.
What is known is that Jones has brought back good friend Whoopi Goldberg, who hosted two years ago, to emcee the three-hour, star-studded event. The innovative dance company, Stomp, is scheduled to perform, and the 1993 best director winner, Steven Spielberg, will be presenting actor Kirk Douglas with his special Oscar.
Jones, 63, is celebrating his 50th year in show business. A musician, conductor, producer, arranger and composer, he has won 26 Grammy Awards, produced and conducted the historic “We Are the World” recording and produced Michael Jackson’s solo albums “Off the Wall, “Bad” and “Thriller.” Jones won an Emmy for his score of the opening episode of “Roots” and has scored 33 motion pictures, including “In Cold Blood,” “The Pawnbroker” and “In the Heat of the Night.” He’s been nominated for the Oscar seven times and was co-producer of the 1985 film, “The Color Purple,” which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. Jones is currently the executive producer of the NBC series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “In the House,” in addition to Fox’s “Mad TV.”
Times Staff Writer Susan King caught up with Jones over the phone to discuss the trials and tribulations of producing the Oscars.
What were your feelings when you were asked to produce the Oscars?
You take a long hard look and think, “Is this what you want to do?” (Laughs). No, that’s not true. It’s an honor. It’s a big task to turn over to somebody. I have been associated with the Academy for a long time. I conducted the Oscar orchestra in 1971 and was on the board of governors around the same time. I have been a presenter three or four times, a nominee seven times and I got the Jean Hersholt last year. I understand the enormous responsibility it is. It’s really the crown jewel of all the awards shows.
You have Whoopi Goldberg on board as host. What qualities does she have that makes her such a good emcee?
Well, No. 1, I know Whoopi. We were involved in “The Color Purple,” her first movie. She’s a stand-up comic and she’s a master of improvisation. She’s a writer and she’s an Academy Award-winning actress. She has all the qualifications to move on a dime, to carry the elegance and the dignity of the show and is very funny. She understands the street. She has everything.
You are the first African American to produce the Oscars.
That’s for sure.
There’s only one African American Oscar nominee this year. And People magazine recently reported that there is still a veritable “blackout” when it comes to minorities in Hollywood. Can you discuss your feelings about the issue?
It hurts, but it’s been hurting a long time. In a way, all of this kind of just reflects what is happening in the country. I mean, you know you are in trouble when you have a [political] party which is going after polarization. It’s astounding. Marlon Brando, who has been a friend of mine since ’51, said to me a couple of years ago, “After all the stuff we have gone through all of these years, you would never, ever guess that in the ‘90s we would have such a Neanderthal sensibility about race relations.” It’s like Dickens: In some ways, it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times.
I’m sure you’re striving for a culturally balanced Oscar show.
Yes, that’s my natural instincts. I can’t help it, you know. That’s where I have been all of my life and that’s what it’s about. We are going after a show with edge and elegance and still always focusing on why we came in the first place. There are a lot of surprises, though.
Can you spill the beans about any of the surprises?
No, it wouldn’t be a surprise then (laughs). It’s just a different attitude. We are trying to represent more about what real life is about. We have got very, very talented people in front and behind the camera which will give the show an edge I don’t think it had before. I think we are finally getting our arms around the show. It’s a bear.
There are always complaints that the show is too long and boring. What will you be doing to keep things moving?
If every element is exciting then it shouldn’t bog down. Usually the details make the difference. It’s like making a record. I am a real stickler for details, and we have a great director, Jeff Margolis, and my [producing] partner David Salzman is working with me. So far, the Academy has been cooperative with where we are going and we are pushing the envelope as hard as we can. We are pushing it all the way. Some things are a given; you can’t change them because it’s just the nature of the show. But I am a big advocate of “leave a little space to let God walk through the room.” And when you are trying to create magic, you have to think that way. I think we’ve got a hot, blazing show.
Do you think you will produce the Oscars again next year if you’re asked?
I will tell you on the 26th! (Laughs).
The 68th Annual Academy Awards telecast airs Monday at 6 p.m. on ABC.