Commentary: Don’t deprive any Oscar winners of their triumphant walk to the stage

A woman in a white dress, left, kisses a statue she is holding as another woman gestures while holding a similar statue
Elena Andreicheva, left, and Carol Dysinger won the documentary short subject Oscar for “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” at the 92nd Academy Awards on Feb. 9, 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In a desperate attempt to cut the running time of the Oscars show, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it would cut the live presentation of Oscars in eight categories from the telecast that starts at 5 p.m. March 27. Instead, the awards for film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, sound, documentary short subject, animated short and live-action short would be awarded in the Dolby Theatre in the hour before. There will be nominees, guests and presenters in the audience at that hour, and edited clips of winners accepting their awards will be woven throughout the televised show.

Bad idea. Oh, I get why they did it. These aren’t the awards won by glammed up actors and actresses and directors that most viewers want to see. These are the awards when some people take a bathroom break. So why not sacrifice them to shorten the running time of a show that regularly clocks in at more than three hours? But I suspect this move will not save the show from its precipitous ratings decline, and it probably won’t save that much time.

Whether you win an Oscar for actress in a leading role or for production design, you deserve a few minutes to walk up to the stage, get your Oscar and give your acceptance speech on the show. Chances are you’ve been writing that speech since third grade (who hasn’t?) and dreaming of the truly improbable moment you would be able to give it to an audience watching in person and on TV.


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May 2, 2021

The five craft awards that are banished from the live show are all crucial to making a film. This is the one night when these artists are lifted out of their designation in the Hollywood movie caste system as “below-the-line” and given their rightful due as indispensable collaborators in the filmmaking process.

And think the short films are unremarkable? Remember the one about menstruation and the stigma attached to it that won the Oscar for documentary short subject in 2019? I sure do, and I’ll bet many women who watched also remember. “I’m not crying because I’m on my period, I’m crying because a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” exclaimed director Rayka Zehtabchi in accepting the award for “Period. End of Sentence.”

The academy’s decision prompted criticism from numerous Hollywood filmmakers including directors Jane Campion and Steven Spielberg, who are both nominated this year. And more than 70 film professionals, including Oscar-winning directors James Cameron and Guillermo del Toro and Oscar-winning composer John Williams, signed a letter to academy President David Rubin urging that the decision be reversed, saying it was relegating some disciplines to “the status of second-class citizen.”

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There’s no doubt the television broadcast is in trouble. The ratings plummeted to an all-time low last year and the show ran 3 hours and 19 minutes. The show has run over three hours long for decades. The 2002 Oscars, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, holds the record for the longest show at 4 hours 23 minutes. (The 2012 show clocked in at a trim 3 hours and 13 minutes.) Academy officials have said as the show runs past 11 p.m. on the East Coast, they lose significant numbers of viewers.

But it’s an awards show, not a soap opera or a sitcom. Yes, there should be some organic drama to it, but it’s the ultimate “In Real Life” television show where people are going to be amazing or boring or clever or goofy. The most memorable show in recent years was the 2017 show that featured arguably the biggest mistake in Oscar history, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the winners of best picture as “La La Land” only to end up with producer Jordan Horowitz announcing onstage, “There’s a mistake. ‘Moonlight’ — you guys won best picture.” The next few seconds produced gasps in living rooms and newsrooms — including this one — everywhere. How long was that show? Who cared?

Of course the academy can’t count on a colossal mishap for ratings. But it also can’t count on a shortened show either. It needs a great host. This year there are three talented women taking the helm. Let’s see if that works. It needs great presenters whom viewers want to see.


Getting the Oscar is more important to your career than accepting the Oscar onstage, a producer recently told me. True. But an Oscar winner should have the chance to do both.