By this point almost everyone is aware that last Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was met with…let’s say mixed results. The production team, led by legendary director Steven Soderbergh, took some major risks in the ceremony, and many, if not most of them, fell flat. However, it’s hard to blame the dropping ratings on last Sunday’s show – none of the bad choices were known in advance, and couldn’t have affected viewership. As younger demographics continue to grow less and less interested in televised awards shows due to a rise in content and streaming services, the Academy Awards As Presented On ABC must face an existential crisis: how, if at all, can they make this a show worth seeing again? Well, I have some thoughts. And as fate would have it, most of them come from studying what, exactly, didn’t work – and more importantly, did work – this past Sunday at the weirdest show in years. So let’s break down Travis’ Dos and Don’ts: Lessons From This Year’s Oscar Ceremony.
- Embrace The Party: While they don’t have to be as boozy or as loose as the Golden Globes, the Oscars are supposed to be fun! It’s a bunch of big celebrities gathering together with the chance of winning awards! It shouldn’t feel like a work event; we want to let these people let loose, not just a drunken Harrison Ford. Give us access to the bar, get those shots of Amana Seyfried and Vanessa Kirby meeting and hugging. Give us a reason why we shouldn’t watch reruns of The Sopranos or Friends for the 30th
- Kinetic Energy: Similar to the party-like atmosphere, the Oscars, more than anything, need to feel like something is happening. Static shots of the stage while people read cue cards in the past made things feel too much like C-SPAN. Last Sunday, Soderbergh and Glenn Weiss brought an energy to the filming, whether it was that long tracking shot of Regina King walking into the ceremony, on-the-ground cameras that could get up close the presenters and nominees in ways we haven’t seen before, and a general sense of movement missing from previous shows. Audiences will tune in for the awards and the glamor; they’ll stay for the movement.
- Incorporate A Pre-Show: Not everything worked with the “Into the Spotlight” segment at the top of the show, where the Academy combined the lobby interactions and musical performances with the red carpet interviews. But there is a great idea at the center here. Events like the Super Bowl and March Madness are all-day ordeals, from morning to nightfall. There are musical performances, interviews (even with the President!) and beyond, bringing people together upwards of four hours before the show’s start. While I didn’t like moving all the music to the pre-show, there was something of a sense of spectacle I haven’t seen before. Hire musicians to perform new songs – or better yet, classic songs from movies – and let great red carpet interviewers talk to the celebrities in between. Hell, add a bar to the red carpet and talk to them while they wait on drinks! Embrace the entire process and make this an event worthy of its name.
- Show New Trailers And Ads: One of the most anticipated parts of the Super Bowl are the commercials. It’s a major part of the show. It’s always been insane to me that studios have never taken advantage of the Academy’s lack of commercial time or “spectacles” to premiere trailers for their new shows and films. One of the most successful parts of last Sunday’s show was when trailers dropped for West Side Story, In The Heights, and Summer of Soul. Give us more of this! Hype all week that you can exclusively watch the trailer for Fast 9, or Dune, or The Many Saints of Newark, or whatever by tuning in for the Oscars, and let the movie nerds roll in. Make the Oscars a spectacle.
- Go Host-less: Listen, I get why they didn’t have a host in 2018. I get the whole kerfuffle with Kevin Hart quitting at the last minute rather than offer up even a half-assed apology. And yes, that show worked. But it didn’t work because of the lack of a host. It worked because two billion-dollar films got nominated, one of them allowed Queen to open the show, and audiences tuned in to see a potential disaster. But the last two years? The lack of a host meant the show meandered, deathly dull and without a rudder. For the love of God, bring back a host. I don’t care who it is. Lil Rel Howery did a competent job “hosting” his bits, but feel free to get a bigger star. James Corden’s got a strong team of writers, Stephen Colbert’s an energetic host, and let’s not kid ourselves: Dwayne Johnson would pack in the crowds like nobody’s business. I don’t care who. Just get a host next year.
- Cut The Comedy: It was something of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation this year. If the Oscars leaned too hard into the jokes and hired comedians, it would have been seen as tasteless post-Covid, post-protests, and post-contemptuous election/Storming of the Capitol. But please, for the love of God, please be funny next year. One of the best shows was in 1987 when they just let Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams improvise for extended periods of time. Actual jokes by talented comedians certainly work better than disinterested celebrities reading cue cards about how great they are. We already know they’re self-righteous assh*les. At least own it through jokes.
- Cut The Bits: One of the few highlights of the night came during a scripted segment with Questlove and Lil Rel Howery quizzing audiences on classic movie songs. Why was it one of the few highlights? Because it remembered that the awards are supposed to be fun. Audiences tune in because we want to watch celebrities interacting and celebrating – it’s why highlights from the past few years include Jimmy Kimmel’s tour bus, or Ellen’s selfie. As great as Glenn Close’s performance of “Da Butt” was, all it really did was make us yearn for better moments of shows past. Otherwise, it’s a milquetoast work meeting. And speaking of things we missed…
- Cut The Clips and Montages: One of the worst decisions of the night came in the show’s decision to eliminate the clips for the movies, actors, and industry at large. In terms of time, I get it – it allowed the show to focus on speeches and the stars. Plus, those “We Love Movies” segments always get mocked mercilessly. But here’s the tradeoff. The thing that makes those clips so important is it makes audiences unaware of the nominees want to see these films. Imagine how audiences would have felt if they saw Anthony Hopkins’ breakdown, or Chadwick Boseman’s angry ranting, or Maria Bakalovariffing off of political figures, or Andra Day singing “Strange Fruit.” Imagine the impact it would have had if audiences had seen clips of why Judas and the Black Messiah and Nomadland were so good. And more importantly, imagine how much sense it would have made when Mank and Ma Rainey won Production Design and Costumes when there are actual images to prove why they deserved to win. These clips are vital for getting audiences excited about the nominees, and cutting them makes no damn sense.
- Cut The Music: Go watch that performance of “Husavik” again. Watch the performance by Celeste and Leslie Odom Jr. Think back to the In Memoriam segments set to Bette Midler or Billie Eilish as we all cried. And now tell me it’s a good idea to cut the musical performances. Listen, if you want to turn the pre-show into a full extravaganza, I get it. Make the Oscars a full day event, I’m on board. But if you’re going to cut everything – the orchestra, the music, the live performances – then the show is going to suffer. There’s a reason the 2018 Oscars were the most-watched of the decade – they opened with Queen, man. That means something. I’m not saying you can’t move the musical performances to the pre-show. All I’m saying is that if they’re going to be the highlight of the night, you might want to include them in the main production.
- Change The Order on a Whim: Finally, let’s get into it. Changing the award order. There’s some interesting ideas behind this shake-up. Best Director in the middle of the show? Interesting. Best Screenplay right off the bat? I mean, I would have done this the Jordan Peele year, but whatever. But moving Best Picture to the third to last award, just so you can chase ratings glory with a gamble as big as “Chadwick Boseman’s widow gives a great speech IF he wins,” is unacceptable. Nomadland was far from a lock at that point in the evening. It had only won two awards. Imagine if they had kept the original order. The Father has won Best Screenplay and Best Actor – it now has a real chance to win. Judas and the Black Messiah had won a few unexpected awards – it now has a real chance to win. Suddenly, there’s manufactured tension that didn’t exist before. And I know the Academy and the producers couldn’t have known this result before the ceremony, and my suggestion only comes with hindsight. But if hindsight argues for tradition, then why risk things with a big gamble? This was a bad choice, and I’m not sure there’s any ceremony in the last 20 years where this decision wouldn’t have been a colossal failure.
Well, that wraps up my thoughts on the takeaways from this year’s Oscar ceremony. Hopefully next year’s producers take these suggestions to heart (especially The Rock As Oscar Host – please for the love of God…), because I want to see the Oscars thrive like they never have before. Look at it this way…there’s nowhere to go but up.