Jon STEWART, the popular late-night political satirist, will bring his smirking charm to the Oscars once again as host of the 80th Annual Academy Awards -- a decision that has some in Hollywood scratching their heads.
Stewart’s statement, included in the Wednesday morning release from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was typically self-deprecating.
“I’m thrilled to be asked to host the Academy Awards for the second time,” he said, “because, as they say, the third time’s a charm.”
The Oscars will air live on ABC from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre on Feb. 24.
The award show’s ratings dropped 8% the last time Stewart hosted in 2006, and his sarcastic sensibility that often lampooned Hollywood’s self-reverence didn’t play so well with the all-star crowd.
The 78th annual awards drew an average audience of 38.8 million viewers, the second-lowest tally since 1987. (Steve Martin hosted the ceremony’s worst-rated show in 2003, which coincided with the start of the Iraq war.)
At the time of Stewart’s last hosting gig, award telecast producer Gilbert Cates blamed the low ratings on the modest box office of that year’s nominated films. (Another likely reason is that viewers have grown overly celebrity-saturated.) In Wednesday’s statement, Cates was enthusiastic about Stewart’s return.
“Jon was a terrific host for the 78th awards,” he said. “He is smart, quick, funny, loves movies and is a great guy. What else could one ask for?”
But Hollywood watcher Nikki Finke wondered, “Has the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences lost its collective mind?” in her column for LA Weekly. And HollywoodElsewhere.com’s Jeffrey Wells wrote, “Cates’ move is somewhat analogous to Bush accepting Gen. David Petraeus’ Iraq War progress assessment lock, stock and barrel.”
In 2006, Stewart, who could not be reached for further comment, brought the same skewering comic tone to the telecast that made his Comedy Central news program “The Daily Show” such a hit. He poked fun at Steven Spielberg and Angelina Jolie. He joked, “Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film -- with me, the fourth male lead from ‘Death to Smoochy.’ ” Glancing at the set’s giant Oscar statuette, he asked: “Do you think if we all got together and pulled this down, democracy would flourish in Hollywood?”
Reviews were mixed. Some noted Stewart was stiff and nervous. Others panned him outright -- Tom Shales of the Washington Post said Stewart hosted with “smug humorlessness,” and the Associated Press’ Frazier Moore called his jokes “tiresome squared.” But many others praised Stewart for making the best of a bad gig.
Stewart recapped his Oscar performance the next night on his own show, noting the mixed reviews by saying, “I sucked and was great! I was a painfully smug and unfunny heir to Johnny Carson.”
As Chris Rock, David Letterman and Steve Martin can all attest, the hyper-sensitive A-list actors sitting in the theater combined with millions of regular folks watching at home make the Oscar host uniquely cursed with the world’s toughest crowd.