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Jay Weston

Jay Weston

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The Oscars Must Change -- Now

Posted: 03/ 4/11 01:06 PM ET

As a member of the Motion Picture 'Academy' (AMPAS) for more than 30 years, ever since the film that I produced, Lady Sings The Blues, was nominated for five Oscars and I was voted in, I feel that I should speak up about the unfortunate situation which this last TV awards show has evoked. The media and public reviews of this Academy show have been uniformly negative, sometimes brutal, which is sad but somewhat warranted. Not to kick a horse when it is down, but it was a rather boring and unimaginative display. My fellow members of the Academy on the Board are smart and savvy people and are aware of this, and I know they will be taking steps to remedy the situation. So, to offer whatever help that I can, this polemic is meant to be positive, to help along their discussions.

I think the choice of those two nice young people as hosts was, in retrospect, a mistake, although Anne Hathaway did display terrific verve and spirit (and some singing talent); Mr. Franco seemed to be sleepwalking through it. The Academy and the network must stop chasing after the young audience, since the young audience seemingly has no interest anymore in the Oscar show. It is busy watching the Golden Globes and the SAG shows, as well as the delightful Spirit Awards broadcast a night before the Academy show.

One thing is obvious: the Oscar show must be moved up drastically, hopefully to be the first show of the season, not the last. I know all the arguments which the marketing people at the studios present, that they need more time to sell their movies before the show. Balderdash. We must get out there first and be best, at the beginning or middle of January, before the erratic and entertaining Golden Globes steals our thunder again. With some intense effort, it can be rescheduled and done.

We must rethink the format and copy what works so well for the others. Put it in a big ballroom, probably where the Governor's Ball is now held, with food at the tables and champagne flowing -- that's Hollywood. Not a stiff, formal and interminable three-plus hours sitting uncomfortably in the theatre. Remember what that clip showed us about the first Academy show in 1929, at the Hollywood Hotel. It was a raucous dinner. Back to that.

And stars. Lots of stars. Even if we don't have many of the old-time larger-than-life glamorous stars of yore. (I was once Steve McQueen's press agent. That was a star.) Mandy Moore (though a nice young actress) is not a star. Sean Connery, Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, yes George Clooney, those are stars. (Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel went to Haiti this week, and showed us Sean Penn working tirelessly to help those fabulous people, so yes, Sean Penn is a young star. And I would like to see him get an Honorary Oscar next year for these efforts).

I would like the host to be a fresh, dynamic face. Jon Stewart hosted the 78th and 80th Academy Awards and did a splendid job, so let's team him with the irreverent Chelsea Handler, or Jerry Seinfeld, or... someone I can't even conceive of right now. I'm too untalented to produce such a show, but there are fresh, imaginative men and women in our industry whom we must call upon for their ideas and enthusiasm and actions. And cleavage. I want more cleavage. Sex and stars. What do we think we are about, if not that?

One of my writers emailed me on Monday: "The reason the Academy Awards have become irrelevant is because the audience is not part of the process!" Which has set me to thinking about some 'out-of-the-box' ideas. Hollywood makes the movies, invents the stars, markets the story lines, and then gives itself the awards. In an age of jaded commercial marketing, everyone is cynical and thinks all is faux, especially institutions which honor themselves. So we drag two young hosts to slaughter, fake some techno-sets (can you believed that awful checker board concept set?), and we think that's going to interest the young demographic. As my girlfriend said, It feels and looks so manipulative. And the writing? I want Aaron Sorkin to write the next show! Let's ask him. He's probably too busy, but will have some exciting thoughts. The best moments for an old-timer like me were the Bob Hope clip, the Billy Crystal appearance, and the shot of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. (By the way, I really disliked that montage with The King's Speech voiceover running over clips from the ten competing movies. Insulting to them, methinks.)

Somehow we must drag the world audience back into the process, in some manner beyond the simple (but effective) American Idol format. Hey, here's a wild thought. Why not have a worldwide buildup to the actual Awards? Like a final theatre audience which the world audience got to vote on, or be part of. Every major U.S. state and some foreign countries get two tickets and transportation, with a frenzied competition to participate in the months preceding the show. Crazy, yes, knowing there aren't enough seats for members, but we need something to ignite universal excitement again. I know the Academy Board of Directors will take smart, decisive action, and wish them well and God speed.

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