11/10/2011 01:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 10, 2012

Oscar Producers: What Do They Actually Do, Anyway?

Brett Ratner's recent gaffe and subsequent resignation, followed closely by the exit of host Eddie Murphy, has thrown the entertainment industry into a tizzy.

Ratner was quickly replaced by veteran producer Brian Grazer, who will shoulder the burden of putting together the 2012 show with only a few months before it will air while contending with the disarray left in the wake of Ratner's departure.

Though co-producer Don Mischer (who produced last year's show, and has extensive experience producing live events, like the Olympics opening ceremony and the Primetime Emmys, for TV) has remained on board, he and Grazer will have a tough task in getting the show back on track by Feburary.

So what does an Oscar producer even do?

Murphy's replacement is probably the first hole the producers must fill. Part of their duty is, after all, to find an appropriate host for the show, in keeping with whatever thematic framework they might be working with. And as last year's hosting fiasco proved, the host can't just change into costumes and insert quips between awards.

In addition to the host, the producers must figure out who will pick the awards presenters in each category, and then wrangle those actors into agreeing. All of these decisions, however, are part of a larger story the producers put together. Last year, the Oscars, produced by Mischer and producer Bruce Cohen, ran on a "movie history" platform, with segments looking back on previous cinematic triumphs intercutting the action and Anne Hathaway's dress-up dance numbers for color.

The goal is to keep audiences entertained -- part of the reason the Oscars have sought year after year to shorten the ceremony, which hovers near three hours in length. Cutting off actors mid-triumphal-speech is the norm. The producers have the challenge of trying to keep things running smoothly, and quickly.

Ratner's plan, at the time, was in infusing the Oscars with humor.

"They said: 'You love comedy. You love to laugh, and we want to bring entertainment value and comedy to this show,' " Ratner said in the LA Times when he was chosen." "I'm a laugher and a lover of comedy. That is what's going to make the show work."

And, before he left, he was on track to do just that, hiring screenwriters off shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Saturday Night Live" to pen the words you hear presenters reading off of the teleprompter.

After all of that, comes the endless list of administrative checklists that keep any show running smoothly -- making sure people are where they need to be when they need to be there, doing what they've been told to do, in the way they've been told to do it. It's figuring out things like who will perform, and for how long, and in what way, and how to transition between sequences with a minumum of awkward -- and keeping it that way for when the show actually happens.

The debacle is an embarrassment to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, whose Oscar efforts in recent years have shown their desire to rehaul the show to appeal to younger audiences. Appointing Ratner -- a director whose previous hits include "Rush Hour" and "The Family Man" -- seemed part of this effort to re-engage people who've long since decided that the broadcast is a bore.

The scandal is less boring. But for Grazer and Mischer, what remains now is to make sure the Oscars are, as well.

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