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Crystal’s cathedral

When Billy Crystal first took the stage with that big golden boy, George H.W. Bush had just invaded Panama, Donald Trump and Marla Maples were a hot couple, the McMartin trial had ended in a not-guilty verdict, a 14-year-old golfer named Tiger Woods had won his fifth Junior World title and “Whale Rider” star Keisha Castle-Hughes was not yet born.

Tonight is the eighth time Crystal will be host of the Academy Awards, although he has broken it up over the course of 14 years, perhaps to avoid any debate over term limits. He has served under three presidents, during two election years and two wars. During his sporadic Oscar reign, the country has seen the rise of Garth Brooks, Starbucks and women’s basketball, survived an impeachment, a contested election and Liza’s marriage to David Gest. Not to be outdone, Crystal has gone above and beyond the traditional MC duties, taking to the stage on a horse and the prow of the Titanic, in shackles and a quasi-straightjacket. His opening montages, with or without song-styling accompaniment -- have become as anticipated a television event as the Super Bowl commercials.

So what’ll it be this year? Hobbit feet? Tokyo lounge singer act? Sean Penn impersonation? Could he get an actual whale on stage? Or will it just be a crowd of Oscar conventioneers chanting “Four more years”?

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With Crystal back as host, ABC is once again the network televising the Oscar ceremony.

But that’s only one part of a day’s worth of Oscar-related broadcasts today.

On TV

8 a.m. (A&E;) -- “Breakfast With the Arts.” The channel’s two-hour weekly cultural program is Oscar-centric today, featuring interviews with Peter Weir, Peter Jackson, Gary Ross, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Ben Kingsley and others.

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9 a.m. (E!) -- “Live Countdown to the Red Carpet.” The entertainment channel offers six hours of live coverage leading up to its show leading up to the awards.

3 p.m. (KABC) -- “An Evening at the Academy Awards.” The two-hour show features interviews with stars as they arrive at the Kodak Theatre.

3 p.m. (E!) -- “Live From the Red Carpet.” Joan and Melissa Rivers interview arriving celebrities.

5 p.m. (KABC) -- “Oscar Countdown 2004.” The official pre-telecast show.

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5:30 p.m. (KABC) -- “The 76th Annual Academy Awards.” At last, the main event, scheduled to end at 9 p.m.

9 p.m. (E!) -- “Live Post Show Academy Awards.” Reactions from those who were there.


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