The pandemic upends the Oscars — producers applaud
NEW YORK (AP) — Ninety seconds. That’s how quickly Steven Soderbergh believes the Academy Awards will convince viewers that this year’s telecast is different.
The concept for the show, which Soderbergh is producing with Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, is to treat the telecast not like a TV show but a movie. And he’s convinced he’s got a doozy of an opening scene.
“We’re going to announce our intention immediately,” says Soderbergh. “Right out of the gate, people are going to know: ‘We’ve got to put our seatbelt on.’”
Changing the Academy Awards, a 93-yearold American institution, has typically proven an exercise in futility. Tweaks have been tried along the way, yet the basic format has been stubbornly immutable.
But this year, the pandemic has shaken the Oscars like never before. When the broadcast begins April 25 on ABC, there won’t be an audience. The base of the show won’t be the Academy Awards’ usual home, the Dolby Theatre (though the Dolby is still a key location), but Union Station, the airy, Art Deco-mission Revival railway hub in downtown Los Angeles.
For the producers, the challenges of COVID are an opportunity to, finally, rethink the Oscars.
“At any step in the creative process of making a movie, when I ask a question about why something is being done a certain way and the answer is, ‘Because that’s the way it’s always been done’ — that’s a real red flag for me,” Soderbergh said in a recent Zoom interview with Collins and Sher. “All of us this year have taken advantage of the opportunity that’s been presented to us to really challenge all the assumptions that go into an award show.”
No matter how good a job they do, ratings are all but certain to fall from last year’s 23.6 million viewers. Award show viewership has cratered during the pandemic, and this year’s Oscar nominees — while widely streamed and more diverse than ever — lack the kind of buzz generated in a normal year. Soderbergh praises the best-picture nominees as “one of the most auteurdriven set of films.”