Everybody likes Ellen, especially Oscar

Times Staff Writer

With no disrespect meant to Jon Stewart or Chris Rock, the last two Oscar hosts who garnered mixed reviews for their efforts, the announcement that Ellen DeGeneres will emcee the 79th Academy Awards appears designed to boost the ratings of the show by presenting a comedian who has a broader appeal with the public than her two predecessors.

"Certainly, I believe the presence of Ellen will help the ratings -- absolutely," Laura Ziskin, producer of next year's Oscar show, said Friday. " ... She's popular with a very wide audience. She is not a niche performer. She touches a lot of demographics."

This year's show, hosted by Stewart of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," drew 38.8 million viewers, an 8% decline from the previous year's show hosted by Rock, who was seen as an experiment in a bid by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to attract a younger audience.

Ziskin, who produced her first Academy Awards telecast in 2002, said that with DeGeneres, who starred in the 1990s' sitcom "Ellen" and now hosts the Emmy-winning "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," audiences can expect humor that can be biting and pointed, but not mean-spirited. It's her first turn as Oscar host, though she has hosted the Emmys and the Grammys.

"If you go back to the classic Oscar host, Johnny Carson, you always felt good and yet he could still zing you or surprise you," Ziskin noted. "But he was nice. I like that part."

Academy President Sid Ganis described DeGeneres as "endlessly energetic, chipper and smart as a whip."

"We've had our eye on her and she's had her eye on us for a long time," he added.

Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, said that with the selection of DeGeneres, the Oscar telecast will have had six different hosts in as many years. One reason, he said, was because "almost nobody wants to do it twice in a row anymore. It's a very hard thing to do. People feel they are competing against their own past successes if they do it back-to-back."

Davis added that the academy would be happy for any of these six comedians to return as hosts, and even noted that David Letterman, who is thought to have bombed as emcee in 1995, has since been approached about returning.

"He had the highest-rated Oscar show, except for the 'Titanic' show [in 1998], in recent history," Davis said.

But Davis said he doesn't believe the host is the most important factor in determining the show's ratings. Ziskin noted that the tune-in is often in direct proportion to the popularity of the nominated movies.

DeGeneres was not available for comment Friday.



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