This year’s Oscars may have drawn some blistering reviews along with its solid ratings. But the producers of the telecast say they don’t put much stock in the negative chatter.
“When you take the job, you know you’re in jeopardy of being ripped to shreds,” producer Craig Zadan said in an interview with The Times. “No matter what you do with the Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences], people take sides. We judged the show by what we wanted to do.”
Added Neil Meron, who produced the show with him. “None of us expected to be lauded by the press.”
Broadcast Sunday from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre, the 2013 Oscars featured a grab bag of entertainment meant to appeal to a wide demographic. In addition to its 24 awards, the telecast featured a controversial hosting performance by the 39-year-old “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane and a reunion of the cast of “The Avengers” — along with older-skewing material such as musical performances from Barbra Streisand and an homage to movie musicals.
Viewership was up — 2% over last year, to 40.3 million, and a notable 11% among viewers ages 18-49, the demographic that many advertisers target. But critical reaction included a large number of tepid reviews.
Writing in The Times, Mary McNamara called the Oscars “long, self-indulgent and dull even by the show’s time-honored dull-defining standards.” On the New Yorker website, David Denby wrote that MacFarlane “got off to a rocky start and never really recovered.”
The performance also came under fire from writers and organizations upset with how various groups were portrayed. The Anti-Defamation League protested a joke featuring MacFarlane’s computer-generated Ted character that it said was anti-Semitic. A number of columnists noted material offensive to women, particularly via a number titled “We Saw Your Boobs.”
Also on the New Yorker site, Amy Davidson said that “Watching the Oscars … meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane” and “involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace.” On Salon, Elissa Schappell wrote that “It did not feel like MacFarlane was hosting the entertainment world’s most prestigious event with hundreds of millions of viewers in more than a hundred countries, but an Oscar party for his bros in his parents’ basement.”
The producers said they’re tuning out the criticism.
“The Oscar in general is a blood sport,” Zadan said. “A lot of the TV press goes back year after year and complains about a traditional host, but if you have someone groundbreaking they complain about that.”
Meron said that MacFarlane was “very, very happy with the performance.”
“We weren’t concerned at that level [of shocking people]. We were concerned with putting on entertainment, which we think we did, and people tuned in great numbers,” Meron said.
Added Zadan, who with Meron has produced big-screen entertainment such as “Chicago” and television series such as “Smash”: “We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, so we’re happy.”
In a way, the Oscars’ ability to generate heat online, even of the negative kind, is an achievement. For years critics complained of a lack of water-cooler moments and derided a show that had lost its edge. Still, the goal for any live show is praise for daring material, not derision for the problematic kind.
Among the more debated bits was an opening segment in which the host was joined by a video representation of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, visiting from the future to warn the host about how some questionable routines would be greeted. The sketch had the unusual effect of allowing MacFarlane to do edgy material even as the ostensible “real” Oscars involved more traditional musical numbers playing out on stage.
The producers said that the idea for the skit germinated with MacFarlane, who is a big fan of “Star Trek” and wanted to reference the skepticism he was receiving before the show.
Zadan said that a primary goal from the moment they were hired by the academy last summer was to increase viewership, particularly among a younger demographic.
“We looked at ratings and said, ‘Men are not watching, and young men are not watching, and why does that have to be?’” he said.
The pair, who have a four-hour cable remake of “Bonnie & Clyde” and a live telecast on NBC of “The Sound of Music” in the works, said they hope several of the additions they made this year become a permanent part of the show, particularly having film students as trophy presenters and moving technical nominees to a more prominent spot in the Dolby Theatre. They said they would be open to producing the Oscars again.
Late Monday night, MacFarlane tweeted a different feeling about a return engagement.
“No way,” he said in response to a question about whether he’d host again. “Lotta fun to have done it, though.”