Why awards shows are due for a ma­jor makeover


TORONTO Change is afoot for ma­jor film awards shows on both sides of the bor­der.

As Oscars or­ga­niz­ers grap­ple with a hosting snafu, de­vis­ing a new category and short­en­ing the no­to­ri­ously long show, the head of the Cana­dian Screen Awards is also tin­ker­ing with the for­mat for the event this March.

“We’re look­ing at how we can shake up the tra­di­tional awards show for­mat,” Beth Jan­son, CEO of the Academy of Cana­dian Cin­ema & Tele­vi­sion, teased in an in­ter­view this week.

In a dig­i­tal age of frac­tured view­er­ship and de­clin­ing rat­ings, awards shows have been try­ing to find new ways to lure in view­ers and ap­peal to younger au­di­ences.

A host could be a big piece of that puzzle, but as Jan­son and oth­ers in the in­dus­try at­test, it’s tough to fill the role.

And, as the Oscars re­cently found out, it’s an even tougher chal­lenge in a po­lit­i­cally charged era of old so­cial me­dia posts that could haunt con­tenders.

The Academy of Mo­tion Picture Arts and Sciences has not named a re­place­ment for Kevin Hart, who backed out of hosting the Feb. 24 show after anti-gay tweets and stand-up jokes he had made in the past resurfaced.

Now Va­ri­ety is re­port­ing this year’s Oscars won’t have a host at all, which also hap­pened in 1989.

“I don’t ac­tu­ally think the Oscars does need a host,” said Toronto pro­ducer J. Miles Dale, who won an Os­car last year for “The Shape of Wa­ter.”

“I think ABC might feel that they need a host, be­cause part of be­ing the host is hyp­ing the show in ad­vance — so all the pro­mos that hap­pen and ev­ery­thing else.”

Cameron Bai­ley, co-head and artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, also doesn’t feel a host is nec­es­sary.

“I watch the Oscars to find out who’s win­ning and to see my favourite di­rec­tors and ac­tors on­screen,” Bai­ley said. “The host is a nice bonus but it’s not re­ally all about the host, in my view.”

The Amer­i­can academy wanted Hart “re­ally badly” be­cause he’s a movie star with a huge so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing and main­stream au­di­ence, said Thomp­son.

“It’s just the kind of peo­ple — younger, hip­per, di­verse — that they want to bring into the show,” Thomp­son said.

But Hart didn’t work out and it seems a near-im­pos­si­ble task to re­place him.

A host needs to be smart and quick on their feet and have broad ap­peal, said Jan­son, as well as the abil­ity to hold the at­ten­tion of a room on a live show and ide­ally a the­atre back­ground.

With a heavy po­lit­i­cal lens put on awards shows these days, “there are so many things to think about be­fore you put some­one in that po­si­tion,” said Jan­son, who last year hired two com­edy stars to host the Cana­dian Screen Awards: Jonny Har­ris and Emma Hunter.

Any­one who hosts has to have a “squeaky clean” im­age with no “hideous tweets to be em­bar­rassed about,” added Thomp­son.

“It’s a very in­ter­est­ing, nar­row nee­dle that has to be threaded in order for this to work,” she said.

“The prob­lem is that peo­ple are afraid. Peo­ple like Seth MacFar­lane got lam­basted, (Jimmy) Kim­mel took his lumps. Ev­ery­body has taken their lumps for hosting. James Franco and Anne Hath­away got killed. It just seems like you can­not come out ahead, and why would a ma­jor movie star put them­selves in that po­si­tion?”

Toronto-born “Schitt’s Creek” star Cather­ine O’Hara says she’s heard from pre­vi­ous awards show hosts that “it is the hard­est, most thank­less job.”

“Prob­a­bly four-fifths of your crowd are wait­ing to hear whether or not they won and then four-fifths just found out they lost. So it’s the worst au­di­ence.”

The academy plans to re­struc­ture and shorten this year’s Oscars to three hours, hand­ing out some cat­e­gories dur­ing com­mer­cial breaks. Edited mo­ments from those wins will air later in the broad­cast.

The academy is also look­ing to add a new category to fu­ture Oscars in an at­tempt to in­clude block­buster ti­tles.

“It’s time for an over­haul,” said Toronto-born “Trav­el­ers” star Eric McCor­mack.

“It has to be shaken up, be­cause ev­ery year we do the same thing — we put all of our eggs in one bas­ket and all this fo­cus on who­ever’s hosting and ev­ery year, the next morn­ing it’s, ‘Oh, it’s the low­est-rated Oscars of all time’ and ‘Oh, ev­ery­body hates who won’ and ‘Oh, there were too many nom­i­nees in the film category’ and ‘Oh, it’s ir­rel­e­vant.’

“It’s a crazy ham­ster wheel and there’s got to be a more ex­cit­ing way to do it.”


Martin Katz, and Beth Jan­son of the Academy of Cana­dian Cin­ema and Tele­vi­sion speak at the nom­i­na­tions event for the film, tele­vi­sion and dig­i­tal me­dia cat­e­gories for the 2018 Cana­dian Screen Awards in Toronto last Jan­uary.

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