Film awards shows ready for makeovers

Drop­ping hosts, short­en­ing length among pos­si­ble changes

The Province - - ENT - VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

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 the for­mat for the event this March.

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

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 hasn’t named a re­place­ment for Kevin Hart, who backed out of host­ing the Feb. 24 show af­ter anti-gay tweets and standup jokes he had made in the past resur­faced.

Now Va­ri­ety is re­port­ing this year’s Os­cars won’t have a host at all. That 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.”

Cameron Bai­ley, co-head and artis­tic direc­tor of the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, 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 on screen,” Bai­ley said. “The host is a nice bonus, but it’s not re­ally all about the host, in my view.”

This year’s crop of po­ten­tial nom­i­nees — in­clud­ing Black Pan­ther, A Star Is Born, Green Book and Vice — had big box of­fice ap­peal and could be all the lure the academy needs, said Los An­ge­les-based film critic Anne Thomp­son.

“I know they’re try­ing to use the host as a way to get bet­ter rat­ings, but that’s re­ally not where the rat­ings come from — they come from the movies,” said Thomp­son, IndieWire editor-at-large.

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

“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,” Thomp­son 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 host. James Franco and Anne Hath­away got killed. It just seems like you can’t 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.

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 and Will & Grace star Eric McCor­mack.

“It has to be shaken up, be­cause ev­ery year we do the same thing ... It’s a crazy ham­ster wheel and there’s got to be a more ex­cit­ing way to do it.”

The host is a nice bonus, but it’s not re­ally all about the host, in my view.” Pro­ducer J. Miles Dale

— CP FILES

Academy of Cana­dian Cin­ema and Tele­vi­sion CEO Beth Jan­son, right, says the Cana­dian Screen Awards need a new for­mat. The tra­di­tional for­mat needs a shakeup, she says, as au­di­ences shrink and rat­ings de­cline.

— GETTY IM­AGES FILES

James Franco, left, and Anne Hath­away are two in a long line of movie stars who took their lumps af­ter host­ing the Os­cars. They hosted in 2011.

KEVIN HART

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