The Oscars, Hollywood's signature awards show that in recent years has spawned a costly, long-running and sometimes nasty campaign season, could move up a month under a plan being explored by the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences in Beverly Hills.
Responding to complaints that Oscar campaigning by Hollywood studios is getting out of hand and concern that the other televised awards shows could dilute the impact of the Academy Awards, the 40-member academy board of governors voted last week to explore changing the date of the Oscar telecast on ABC from March to February 2004.
The move "is not in stone," said academy executive director Bruce Davis, "but it is solidifying."
At the same time, he confirmed, the board voted to keep the Oscar telecast at 3 1/2 hours or less after three of the last four telecasts drifted past the four-hour mark, causing the show to run past midnight on the East Coast.
"We've always vaguely said we need to shorten this thing," Davis said. "They have now put in the record that the show will come in at 3 1/2 hours or less."
This year, TV viewers had many chances to ogle a parade of dressed-up movie stars thanking their agents, directors and mothers well before the March 25 Oscar telecast.
The Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, the American Film Institute's selection of the 10 best feature films of the year and the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. Awards all precede the Oscars. And that doesn't include gala awards dinners held by directors, writers and producers guilds to honor their own.
The vote to explore moving the Oscars, reported in Monday's Hollywood Reporter, "is a reaction to a perceived clutter of televised film award shows and, while it is very flattering that everyone lets us be the last one, kind of the final word, there was also a feeling that we were certainly making lots of room for them in the first three months of the year," Davis said.
"Both the idea of shortening the show and moving it up a month in the calendar are kind of dual attempts to reenergize it," Davis added.
Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing--which last year released "Monster's Ball," earning Halle Berry an Academy Award for best actress--said a truncated Oscar season could help independents by cutting the cost of Oscar campaigns, but it could harm them by shortening the time for word of mouth to build.
"From Lions Gate's perspective, a shortened campaign season would likely cut costs, thereby helping to level the playing field, which for an independent company like us would be a plus," Ortenberg said.
"On the other hand ... you may have the same number of shows packed into an even smaller window than there is now, and that may create even more clutter of nonstop awards shows leading up to the Oscars."
He noted that smaller independent films often need more time for word of mouth to build among academy voters and the public. "So we wouldn't want too short a season to allow voting to come and go without allowing the films to fully work their way through the membership."
Robert Friedman, vice president of Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group, said moving up the Oscars is a "double-edged sword."
"There is a lot of money spent [marketing movies during this period], and one would hope you could save some of it," Friedman said. "Conversely, there is a lot of money to be made during that period, so there is a potential loss due to that. That is one reason I want to know more about the schedule."
Sources say that the academy may be considering Feb. 29, 2004--leap year--for the earlier Oscar telecast. One reason the show couldn't be moved up next year, Davis said, is that the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, from which the show is broadcast, has other bookings next February.
Davis said a final decision on moving the Oscars could come in about a month. He noted that, should the move occur, nominations would be announced in late January instead of around Valentine's Day.
This year's Oscar show drew 41.8 million viewers in the U.S., the lowest rating since 1987.
Though the Academy Awards have been telecast in March since 1989, the Oscars have been held at various times over the last 75 years.
Times staff writer Susan King contributed to this story.