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Neil Patrick Harris, in Oscars' 'perfect storm,' faces ultimate hosting test

Neil Patrick Harris, in Oscars' 'perfect storm,' faces ultimate hosting test
Neil Patrick Harris had hinted at his good fortune via social media. (Ethan Miller /Getty Images for The Smith Cente)

After years spent calling for Neil Patrick Harris to host the Oscars, fans of the star got what they asked for Wednesday when Harris was named emcee of the 2015 ceremony.

The actor playfully hinted at the announcement in a video distributed on social media — he told an unidentified cellphone caller "I'm in" and then circled the item on a list that read "NPH's Bucket List," below such goals as "Saw a Lady in Half" and "Become an Imagineer."

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Shortly after, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences issued a statement that Harris would host the Feb. 22 show at the Dolby Theatre. "To work with him on the Oscars is the perfect storm, all of his resources and talent coming together on a global stage," show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said.

Harris has hosted the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice, to stellar reviews each time, and the Oscar news both made sense given his experience and came as a surprise given how many times he'd been passed over before.

The issue had clearly been on Harris' mind. Asked by The Times before the 2013 Tonys if he wanted the Oscars gig, he said, "It's such a strange question to have to answer because if you answer in the affirmative — 'I'd love to host the Oscars' — it looks like you're pandering. And if you say you're not interested, then it seems like you're too good or have something better to do."

Then he added his own guarded enthusiasm. "I would think hosting the Oscars would be a great bucket list check-off" (he's thought of it this way for a while, apparently) before saying that that the scrutiny does make him "reticent."

The selection of host is a delicate matter all around. With more viewers at home and more bold-faced names in the room than at any other awards ceremony--not to mention a long list of  not-quite-glamorous awards to hand out--the Oscars are a daunting challenge even for skilled performers. Many top entertainers are reluctant to do it, fearing that they'd have little to gain under the show's hot lights.

Producers and ABC have their own complex calculus — they want someone fresh who can attract younger viewers, but not so fresh they'd alienate more conservative ones.

If Harris succeeds, he will have vanquished a monster; if he fails, it may demonstrate that the show is unwieldy even for the extremely talented, what with the various constituencies it must serve and the dagger-pointing social-media commentators who keep close watch.

Ellen DeGeneres took the reins this year — the 16th consecutive ceremony to featured a host who did not emcee the year before — and performed reasonably well, especially after Seth MacFarlane's polarizing turn in 2013. An average of nearly 45 million viewers tuned in to the DeGeneres broadcast, the most since 2000.

Her reviews, however, were mixed, and some thought her genial manner lacked the edge the show needs. Harris in his past gigs has been able to walk that line, particularly at the Tonys.

Wednesday's announcements comes as Harris has been ramping up a movie career after his long-running "How I Met Your Mother" went off the air in the spring. He had a supporting role in MacFarlane's western comedy "A Million Ways to Die In the West" (apparently he and MacFarlane talked about the gig back in 2013). He's currently starring in the big-screen hit "Gone Girl' as a creepy, wealthy ex of Rosamund Pike's Amy Dunne, and one can imagine riffing on that turn at this year's telecast.

The selection was no doubt boosted in part by Zadan and Meron, who, like Harris, have deep Broadway and musical ties. Harris also brings a much-valued social-media component to the show, with nearly 11 million Twitter followers--only a third of DeGeneres,' but a whopping number in its own right.

Harris said in the Tonys interview that he wouldn't be surprised if he was one day given the gig, but under certain conditions. "Maybe if 'A Million Ways to Die In the West' is a big hit financially, then they'll ask me to host." It wasn't. But on Wednesday, that didn't stop producers from tapping him anyway.

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT 

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