Thursday, February 24, 2005

OSCAR Week/Awards Report #9/LOOK, We're on TV!!


Oscars on TV: Leading the Way for Award Shows
Producer Cates Promises a Special 'Something' for ABC Broadcast
Oscar night will look a little different this year. Just how different is still up in the air, but the Feb. 27 telecast on ABC will have its share of unique moments, producer Gilbert Cates said.

"I enjoy surprising the audience with something they have never seen before, which, of course, predisposes me not to reveal what I am planning this time around," he said.

Mr. Cates, who is producing his record 12th Academy Awards telecast, did drop a few clues.

Look for best picture candidates to be highlighted as a group, going against the grain of recent Oscar programs.

"We decided a few years back to divide it up and do each film separately during the show, but now all the awards shows are doing that, so we are not doing it this year," Mr. Cates said.

He also hinted that this year's event would revert to a longstanding tradition of having a male announcer as Oscar's offstage voice.

"We had the first woman announcer [Los Angeles DJ Randy Thomas] a few years ago. Now all the [awards] shows do it," he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO INSTEAD OF CHANGING THINGS CAUSE YOU HAVE A GOOD IDEA, YOU'RE CHANGING THINGS JUST TO CHANGE THEM? SIGH......

Mr. Cates said he is saving the biggest surprises for Oscar night, when more than 1 billion people across the globe are expected to tune in. The telecast is huge for Hollywood and for ABC, which has carried the annual gala since 1976.

"How can you not be thrilled about having the Oscars on your network? It is far and away the most prestigious, most respected and most watched awards show on television," said Andrea Wong, executive VP of alternative programming, specials and late-night for ABC Entertainment.

ABC executives would not comment on the amount of ad revenue the network expects to rake in, but media buyers said the price of a 30-second commercial remains roughly equivalent to last year's estimated $1.5 million. With about 60 spots in the show, the potential revenue of $90 million makes Oscar a pretty lucrative one-night stand. A big money night for the network is even more rewarding for ABC affiliates.

"This will be our single biggest billing night for the first half of the year, and for some stations, it's their single biggest night of the entire year," said Frank Biancuzzo, general manager at WISN-TV in Milwaukee.

Local stations will receive 16 to 20 positions to peddle at plum prices, but that's only the beginning.

"We can sell the surrounding programming at a premium, including our newscasts, 'Good Morning America' the next day [and] 'Entertainment Tonight' the night before," Mr. Biancuzzo said.

Oscar night also presents stations with an important promotional vehicle, especially with upscale female viewers, who are likely to tune in in droves.

But Oscar's coattails are not as strong as they once were. Gone are the days when the broadcast would draw two-thirds of all television households. Ratings have declined in seven of the past 10 years and fell to an all-time low of 33.1 million viewers in 2003, a year marred by the advent of the war in Iraq. Last year's telecast recovered nicely, drawing 43.5 million, still far short of 1998's record 55.3 million.

Still, traditionally it's television's biggest ratings grabber each year after the Super Bowl.

"It is one of those shows that kind of defies all the media choices and fractionalization, and one of the few shows that will deliver a 20 rating this season," said Brad Adgate, senior VP of audience research at Horizon Media.

Mr. Cates has a new host to work with this year. Comedian Chris Rock has been tapped in an attempt to attract younger viewers, particular males. He will also likely draw some video voyeurs who check in just to see how his sometimes ribald humor goes over in an era of heightened concern over broadcast indecency. ABC used a five-second delay for the first time on last year's broadcast, a move Mr. Cates said he hopes the network will not repeat.

"It's a damn shame," he said. "I am against it, and the academy is against it. How do you distinguish between a delay for a joke versus a delay for a political observation? Whoever has their finger on that button is going to have a real serious responsibility."

Mr. Cates declined to reveal the program's production budget, saying only that the range for awards shows of this scale goes from a "low of $4 million and up." He also refused to speculate about how long he intends to keep working on the Academy Awards telecast. The founder and former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, he remains artistic director and president of the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. While he said he tries to reinvent the program every time he's involved with it, Mr. Cates will retain one post-Oscar tradition-a "postmortem" breakfast with key staff members at a deli near the Kodak Theatre, where the ceremony takes place.

He said he's also fairly certain about his plans for the following couple of days."I hope to be sleeping in," he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: HIM AND ME BOTH.

'The 77th Annual Academy Awards'
Host: Chris Rock
Producer: Gilbert Cates
Broadcast date and time: Feb. 27, 8 p.m. (ET)
Network: ABC
Production budget: At least $4 million
Cost of a 30-second commercial: About $1.5 million
Size of production crew: About 60 nontechnical plus around 250 technical people
Number of countries tuning in live: 150 (estimated)
Number of expected viewers: More than 1 billion worldwide

Golden Memories
Gil Cates has produced more Academy Awards broadcasts than anyone else.

Here are a few of his most memorable moments:
· Technical glitches bedeviled Mr. Cates' first Oscar telecast in 1990. The program was to include a series of live cut-ins from venues around the world, marking the recent fall of the Berlin Wall. On one involving the late Jack Lemmon at a Moscow hotel, a technician neglected to kill an audio feed, resulting in irritating feedback. "It seemed like it went on for hours, but it was only for about 40 seconds," Mr. Cates said.

· The 1992 telecast got off to a rousing start when 73-year-old Jack Palance celebrated winning his first Oscar by dropping to the floor and doing a one-armed pushup. Later, astronauts aboard the orbiting shuttle Atlantis saluted producer/director George Lucas, recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Award for Lifetime Achievement, with a statuette. "You could see the Oscar floating weightlessly across the screen," Mr. Cates said. "It was a surreal moment." EDITOR'S NOTE: EQUALED ONLY BY THE FIRST TIME WE HEARD JAR JAR SPEAK.

· For Oscar's 70th anni-versary in 1998, Mr. Cates brought back 70 past winners, including Luise Rainer, a two-time best actress winner in the 1930s. Described by Mr. Cates as "an extraordinary event," the salute prompted a 16-minute standing ovation from the audience.EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT WAS VERY COOL!

Academy defends Oscar host Rock
Producers of the Academy Award show have said US comedian Chris Rock will not be made to step aside as host despite poking fun at the ceremony.

A recent interview saw Rock liken the Oscar ceremony to a fashion show and claim no straight black men watched it.

But producers of the ceremony have downplayed Rock's comments, calling them "humorous digs". EDITOR'S NOTE: UMM...YA THINK?!

Rock was described as the best of a "new generation" of talent when he was chosen to host the 77th Academy Awards.

'Idiotic' show
Stand-up comedian Rock, whose films include Head of State, Bad Company and Down to Earth, will host the Oscar ceremony on 27 February.

Rock, 40, told US magazine Entertainment Weekly in a recent interview that he had rarely watched the Oscars, and called award shows "idiotic".

He said: "Come on, it's a fashion show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one. And they don't recognise comedy, and you don't see a lot of black people nominated, so why should I watch it?"


'Funny evening'
But Oscar producer Gil Cates issued a statement saying he and the Academy were standing behind him and denied there had been any calls for Rock's removal.

He said: "The Academy is excited about Chris Rock hosting this year's Oscar telecast and looking forward to a very funny evening with him. Chris's comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at the show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy."

Meanwhile, the Academy has announced that actor Al Pacino will present an award at the Oscar ceremony.

Pacino, who won a best actor Oscar in 1992 for his role in Scent of a Woman, joins Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry on the growing list of stars lined up to present a statuette

Rock is Academy's flavor of month -- Rocky Road
By Martin A. Grove

Rocky road: By casting Chris Rock to host the Oscars the Academy hopes to bolster the show's ratings, particularly among younger television viewers who are prized most by Madison Avenue.

But despite Rock's controversial comments about the Oscars and who watches them on television, the show's ratings are more likely to be impacted by who's nominated in key categories this year than by anything Rock says or does.

In speculating about how the Oscars are likely to perform in the ratings, it's important to note that many of this year's nominees for best picture or other key categories are small films made on modest budgets that moviegoers who don't live in New York, L.A. or a handful of other major markets couldn't even see until recently. In some cases these films haven't generated nearly as much enthusiasm with audiences as they have with critics.EDITOR'S NOTE: IS IT OUR FAULT (OR THE ACADEMY'S) THAT ALL THOSE RED STATES ONLY RECENTLY GOT INDOOR PLUMBING, RUNNING WATER, AND THE ELECTRICITY TO POWER A MOVIE PROJECTOR? (SMIRK....)

When we're talking about what kind of ratings the Oscarcast is likely to get the answer really doesn't have much to do with whether the nominees are good films or not. What matters is how familiar the television audience is with these pictures and whether they are personally invested in seeing any of them win. In the past, crowd pleasers like "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" helped Oscar attract big ratings because moviegoers loved those movies and wanted to see if Academy members would endorse them, too.

The fact that the critics groups put their stamp of approval on several of this year's nominees in December and that other awards givers subsequently climbed on board the same bandwagons doesn't really make much difference when it comes to Oscarcast ratings. For television viewers to spend time watching the show they have to care about the nominees. And it's hard to care about pictures you haven't seen. Many of the films that are competing this year not only for best picture but in the acting categories, too, are pictures that were in very limited release from December until the Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 25.

Looking at the best picture nominees, we see that "Million Dollar Baby" expanded from 147 theaters to 2,010 the weekend of Jan. 28-30. The same weekend saw "Sideways" go from 696 theaters to 1,694. "Finding Neverland" actually lost theaters the weekend following the noms -- going from 1,000 to 869. "Ray," which had opened late last October, had pretty much ended its theatrical run by then and was approaching its DVD release. It had 293 playdates, up marginally from 286 a week earlier. Only "The Aviator" had a truly wide flight plan going for it when the nominations came out -- 2,261 theaters versus 1,956 runs the prior weekend.

The films generating the best actress nominations were in even more limited release at the time. "Being Julia," for which Annette Bening is a nominee, went from 25 to 65 theaters. "Vera Drake," for which Imelda Staunton is a nominee, had 52 runs, up from 41. "Maria Full of Grace," for which Catalina Sandino Moreno is a nominee, had been out of theaters since Nov. 7, when it had had only 51 runs. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," for which Kate Winslet is a nominee, was already in DVD release, having opened theatrically last March. It had been out of theaters since July 25 when it had only 19 playdates. "Baby," for which Hilary Swank is a nominee, was only playing in 147 theaters when the Oscar nominations were announced. "Baby" didn't go wide until Jan. 28 when it expanded to 2,010 playdates.

On the best actor front, it's the same story in terms of how few theaters the films were in when the nominations came out. "Hotel Rwanda," for which Don Cheadle is a nominee, was playing in 310 theaters Jan. 21, up from 192 a week earlier. "Neverland," for which Johnny Depp is a nominee, had 869 runs. "Baby," for which Clint Eastwood is a nominee, was in 147 theaters. "Ray," for which Jamie Foxx is a nominee, had 293 playdates. Only "Aviator," for which Leonardo DiCaprio is a nominee, was really wide with 2,261 runs.

The fact that the public hasn't really seen the nominated movies is the real problem Oscar faces in drawing ratings this year. Chris Rock will get the blame if the numbers are down from last year -- as they have been for this year's Golden Globes and Grammys -- but it won't be entirely his fault. While I think he's not the best choice to host the program -- the Academy chose him knowing it would be a controversial choice. If Rock is the Academy's flavor of the month, the flavor is Rocky Road. Rock's known for being provocative and that's why his fans love him.

Unfortunately, his audience really isn't the audience that traditionally watches the Oscars and the traditional Oscar audience may find Rock's material a bit startling, to say the least. In recent interviews with Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes" Sunday and with Jay Leno last night, Rock has been busy pointing out that he really can perform on television without cursing. I don't doubt that he can. In both of those interviews, as a matter of fact, Rock showed his softer side to great effect. He seemed very likable and funny and with a pleasantly self-deprecating sense of humor. That's quite a difference from his longstanding image as a rough language performer.

Between Rock's recognition of the need to speak differently on the Oscarcast and with the cushion of knowing that ABC does have a taped delay to fall back on if necessary, there shouldn't be any monumental problems Sunday night.

It remains to be seen, however, if Rock's audience will respond to him doing something other than the bad boy act he's become celebrated for doing so well. At the same time, the traditional Oscar audience may find even a toned down Rock too rough for its taste.

If both groups decide to watch something else Sunday night, Oscar's ratings are going to suffer.The Oscarcast's host has a challenging role to perform when it comes to making the show work in the Kodak Theater for its live audience. If the host doesn't generate the right sort of in-theater response to the show, the telecast isn't likely to work well either. Probably the best example of that was David Letterman's ill-fated stint as Oscar host. Neither his live audience nor his television audience found Letterman's now famous Uma-Ophra routine amusing.

Now before anyone starts e-mailing me complaints, let me point out that I like Dave a lot and think he's terrific at doing what he does night after night. But, to be honest, Dave just wasn't a great choice to host the Oscars. They shouldn't have asked and he shouldn't have told them yes.

In Rock's case, controversy comes with the package so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he's been making headlines, particularly on the Internet, based on some of his comments about the Oscars and who watches the show. While the television audience needs to be on board with the show's host, I don't believe that they're tuning in because of the host. The Oscars have to be the main attraction for most people to be willing to commit three or more hours of viewing time. In other words, people tune in to the Oscars because they are interested in seeing the Academy honor films and filmmakers for excellence. Television viewers know they're not going to see a three hour Chris Rock comedy show or concert style performance. They know that whoever is hosting the show will do an opening monologue or performance and after that will function simply as the glue that holds the evening together. That means brief lines here and there that, hopefully, will draw laughs from those in the theater as well as those at home as the show goes in and out of the commercial breaks.

With those commercial breaks reportedly generating about $1.6 million per 30 second spot, there's lots at stake for both ABC and the Academy. In fact, since most of the Academy's annual revenues stem from licensing fees for the Oscar telecast the show's ratings are particularly crucial. Putting all that on Rock's shoulders isn't just unfair, it's unrealistic. The audience at home has to care about the movies and the fact is you don't care about films you haven't seen.The problem the Academy faces is evident when you consider this year's five best picture nominees. The most successful of the films is "The Aviator," which has grossed about $89 million. Its 11 nominations are more than any other film in the race. With an average ticket price nationwide of about $6, that means nearly 15 million people have seen "Aviator." Last year "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" had grossed just over $364 million by Oscar time, which translated into ticket sales to nearly 61 million people. Clearly, the core audience for "Rings" was out there. They were invested in the film and eager to see if the Academy would reward it with the best picture Oscar that moviegoers felt the picture deserved. When we look at the cumes for the other best picture nominees this year it's evident that very few moviegoers have seen them (although some are nicely profitable for their distributors because they didn't cost a lot to make). "Ray" has grossed about $75 million to date, which works out to about 12.5 million people. "Sideways'" cume is about $59 million, which means nearly 10 million people have seen it. "Baby's" ticket sales of about $56 million translates to almost 9.5 million admissions. "Neverland" has taken in about $46 million, which is nearly 8 million admissions. To put it in perspective, all five of this year's best picture nominees have been seen by about 55 million people -- or about 10 percent fewer people than saw "Rings" alone last year. EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT IS A VERY INTERESTING WAY OF LOOKING AT THE POTENTIAL AUDIENCE DRAW. I HADN'T EVER THOUGHT OF THAT. ON THE OTHER HAND, DON'T A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCH CAUSE IT'S AN EVENT? AND ONE OF THE FEW LEFT, WITH THE DIFFUSION OF MASS CULTURE. (I MEAN, I WATCHED THE SUPER BOWL WITHOUT GIVING A FIG ABOUT THE SPECIFIC TEAMS PLAYING IN IT).

That Oscarcast, hosted by Billy Crystal, drew a 15.3 rating in the key adults 18-49 demographic and 43.5 million viewers overall. It was up 18 percent from the previous year in terms of the 18-49 audience and it was up 24 percent in terms of overall audience. With so few people across the country having seen the films Academy members chose to honor this year, is it realistic to expect bigger ratings for the Oscars? And is it fair to expect Chris Rock to be a magician? EDITOR'S NOTE: NO, AND NO. BUT IF I WERE ADVISING A CLIENT ABOUT THE WHOLE THING AS A MEDIA BUY, I WOULD NOT SUGGEST BUYING IT AS A STRICTLY COST-PER-RATING-POINT PURCHASE. YOU BUY THE OSCARS BECAUSE IT IS THE OSCARS. IF IT DOES A 15 RATING VS. AN 18 RATING (OR A 12, FOR THAT MATTER), IT IS STILL THE BIGGEST THING ON WHEELS OTHER THAN THE SUPER BOWL. AND IT IS ONE OF THE FEW PLACES WHERE PEOPLE ACTUALLY OFTEN WATCH THE ADS.

Oscar moments to remember

What's more fun: tuning in to Hollywood's big night to see the stars, the clothes, the glamour... or tuning in hoping to see something go terribly, terribly wrong?

With the bad, blue Chris Rock in charge at next Sunday's Oscar ceremony, things look slightly more promising for accidentally-on-purpose entertainment -- even with a five-second tape delay squeezing out any spontaneity.

Hard to imagine, but strange stuff used to happen all the time at the Oscars -- before movie stars showed up as spokesmodels for designers and producers tightened the choke chain around actors spewing politics.

For a few decades, there was actually something of a free-for-all vibe.That was then.

Bjork's swan costume and Michael Moore's Bush-bashing (2003) notwithstanding, you just don't get many surprise moments anymore on an Academy Awards broadcast.

One hopes that Rock will blow some fresh air into the room or that someone's clothes will come undone, but till then, we can look back and remember.

1992: Jack Palance, 72, picking up a best supporting actor award for "City Slickers," drops and gives the audience a series of one-armed pushups, later adding in a quién es más macho flourish that "As far as two-handed pushups are concerned, you can do that all night."

1986, 1988: Cher arrives attired as a Vegas showgirl.

1973: When it's time for Marlon Brando to pick up his best actor Oscar for "The Godfather," Sacheen Littlefeather, a member of the Apache nation, instead takes the stage in full American Indian garb and announces that she is there on his behalf to protest the treatment of Indians by the film industry and that he will not accept his award.

1974: In an "unplanned" stunt, naked ceremony-crasher Robert Opal runs across the stage flashing a peace sign behind host David Niven, prompting the British actor's famous line: "Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings."EDITOR'S NOTE: BRITISH PEOPLE ARE JUST WITTIER THAN WE ARE. WE MUST ACCEPT THIS. (AND EVEN WHEN THEY'RE NOT, THEY SOUND WITTIER).

1976: Elizabeth Taylor leads the audience at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in a rousing rendition of "America the Beautiful." It soon becomes apparent, however, that she doesn't know the words.

1978: Collecting her best supporting actress statue, Vanessa Redgrave launches into a diatribe denouncing "Zionist hoodlums." EDITOR'S NOTE: PROVING....IF WE EVER NEEDED IT...THAT ACTING SKILL AND LUCIDITY DON'T GO HAND IN GLOVE. She's later denounced by presenter Paddy Chayefsky and by protesters outside, who burn her in effigy.

1985: Sally Field accepts her best actress Oscar for "Places in the Heart" and delivers her notorious, made-for-parody speech: "... This time I feel it, and I can't deny the fact that you like me! Right now, you like me!"EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT A BRITISH PERSON.

1969: Ingrid Bergman, Sidney Poitier, Paula Kelly and the UCLA Marching Band perform the title song to "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Later, Frank Sinatra sits dangling his feet over the edge of the stage runway -- part of the extra-hip, late-'60s staging -- to present the best supporting actor award.

Early '70s: Flouting tradition and taste, a tide of young earth-mother actresses takes to the stage in dowdy housedresses and funny hats.

1974: Katharine Hepburn shows up in a frayed Mao jacket, white slacks and gardening clogs to present the Irving G. Thalberg award.

1989: Brat Packer Rob Lowe submits to a painful opening duet of "Proud Mary" with a faux Snow White. Disney later sued the Academy for unauthorized use of its cartoon character.

The Loser Is: Ratings for Awards
More than 16 million people saw Jamie Foxx come close to breaking down at the Golden Globe Awards last month. Mr. Foxx, accepting the award for best actor in a film (as Ray Charles in the director Taylor Hackford's "Ray"), tried to say that he believed his grandmother was looking down on him from heaven but had to stop to compose himself. The people who missed that speech included about 10 million who had watched the Golden Globes in 2004 but didn't bother tuning in this year.

In the world of awards-show ratings, this is hardly an isolated case. The Grammys, broadcast this month on CBS, attracted roughly 19 million viewers, a 28 percent decline from last year. Even the Oscars have been steadily dropping in viewership. The 1998 telecast, when "Titanic" won 11 awards, was the last big success, with more than 87 million viewers in the United States. Last year about 43.5 million watched. This Sunday night, when the 77th annual Academy Awards are shown on ABC, the numbers are not expected to soar.

This ratings decline has been attributed to a number of factors, from a dearth of big stars in the presentations to the sheer number of awards shows. Where once the Academy Awards was the only big televised movie-awards show, viewers now have the Golden Globes on NBC, the Screen Actors Guild Awards on TNT, the Critics' Choice Awards on WB, the People's Choice Awards on CBS, the MTV Movie Awards, and the Gotham Awards and Independent Spirit Awards, both on IFC. Not to mention the British Academy of Film and Television Awards on BBC America. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THE EUKANUBA AND WESTMINSTER DOG SHOWS!

What most of these shows have in common is an assortment of glamorous presenters, nominees and dates: Annette Bening, Warren Beatty, Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett.

"If you're just showing people stars, that's not enough," said Gil Cates, the producer of this year's Oscars telecast and of 11 others since 1990. "Yes, there is a certain allure to watching a movie star. But the more often you see them, the more accessible they become, and there's a slight diminution of interest. The context is what supplies the interest."

For Mr. Cates, the only context that matters is the Academy Awards themselves. "People watch the Oscars for three reasons," he said in a telephone interview from a Los Angeles recording session. "First, it's a news show. They watch to see who's getting the Oscar. They watch it to see fashions and entertainment. And then I think they watch it for whoever the host is and whatever the host contributes to it." EDITOR'S NOTE: IT'S A PARTY. I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY DON'T KNOW THAT WE ALL CONSIDER A SOCIAL EVENT! This year's host is Chris Rock, whose well-known irreverence ABC can only hope will draw new viewers.

Mr. Cates said he considered it unfair to compare subsequent shows' ratings with the "Titanic" year, because moviegoers' emotional investment in that film was such a rare phenomenon. Ken Ehrlich, the producer of the Grammys, says he feels the same way about comparing his show's 2005 viewership with 2004. "Last year I credit a great deal to the Super Bowl Janet Jackson incident," he said. The Grammys, on which Ms. Jackson appeared but did not perform, were held one week after her infamous wardrobe malfunction. In other years with particularly high ratings, he said, "there was more of a horse race."

This year, for the first time, there was also "Desperate Housewives," ABC's Sunday night hit soap, which earned higher ratings than the awards show broadcast opposite it. Mr. Ehrlich plays down that factor.

"The reality is that 'Desperate Housewives' or not, the normal audience that comes to the Grammys year to year really wasn't there in the numbers that it has been," even at 8 p.m., before the ABC show started, he said. "I think this was a less compelling year."

"The core audience who really love music watch the Grammys because they're interested in the performers they like," Mr. Ehrlich said. "They're less interested in what the awards are. Maybe the ratings differential is tied to those people who aren't hard-core fans."

One cable executive thinks the problem is much simpler.

There's no spontaneity," said Evan Shapiro, general manager of the Independent Film Channel and an executive producer of the Independent Spirit Awards broadcast. "There's no chance of anything interesting happening on these awards shows. If you go online, the one word you see over and over again is 'boring.' With lots of O's. Big capital O's."

Not surprisingly, Mr. Shapiro sees the Independent Spirit Awards, which are presented the day before the Oscars, as far more interesting.

"They're wearing jeans and flip-flops," he said of the actors and filmmakers who attend the oceanside ceremony in Santa Monica, Calif. "They're drunk oftentimes." EDITOR'S NOTE: BOTH CONDITIONS MIMICING HOW THEY ARE WHEN THEY'RE ACTUALLY FILMING.

But since these are awards for independent films, some nominees are not that well known. It may not be as exciting for audiences to see Jared Hess or Kimberly Elise let their hair down as it was for Mr. Shapiro to see a major movie star so distracted that she forgot to read the nominations before opening the envelope on the Golden Globes a few years ago.

"I loved it when Elizabeth Taylor got up there and gave that presenting speech," he said. "I called people and said: 'You've got to turn on the TV right now. It's a car wreck.' "EDITOR'S NOTE: BITCH.(HIM, NOT HER)

Both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Ehrlich describe themselves as big awards-show fans. Mr. Cates says he does not normally watch the shows. Shari Anne Brill has to.

As vice president and director for programming at Carat USA, a media services company, Ms. Brill subscribes to a modified version of the celebrity-fatigue theory. It's not that the public has become bored with the rich and famous; it's just that seeing them on screen isn't the hallowed experience it once was.

"Celebrity is in our face all the time," she said in an interview from her New York office. "Do I really care about Paris Hilton's phone book being hacked? We're preoccupied with them, because they're always there. You can get your helping of celebrity any time you want. You don't have to go to the Oscars to get that."

Ms. Brill did say she believed that "the glut of awards shows cannibalize each other," but she sees the Academy Awards as above the general fray, even if its flaws are a subject of popular debate.

A recent report on the CBS News program "Sunday Morning" referred to the Oscar acceptance speeches as the best part of the show and took Mr. Cates to task, partly tongue in cheek, for cutting them off. Mr. Cates says that he enjoys a well-done speech but does look back nostalgically on the day when "Oscar winners only said thank you."EDITOR'S NOTE: JOEL AND I WERE DISCUSSING THIS LAST WEEK. RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU THINK THE OSCAR TELECAST IS GOING TO LAST LESS THAN 3 HOURS? ISN'T THAT PART OF THE 'EVENT' EXPERIENCE? SO FOR PETE'S SAKE, LET THE WINNERS SAY THEIR PIECE.

Mr. Ehrlich agrees that viewers are tired of unimaginative acceptance speeches. "Too often it's agents and publicists and labels" who are being thanked, he said. EDITOR'S NOTE: MAYBE THEY SHOULD THANK MYTHICAL BEASTS AND IMPORTANT DEITIES?

So maybe awards shows would be better television if actors and musicians had speechwriters.

"You've got kids and they don't have a context, but they're great mimics," Mr. Ehrlich said. "When a winner says, 'This is the most exciting moment of my life,' you don't have to be a very sophisticated viewer to say, 'Oh, come on.' "EDITOR'S NOTE: SPOKEN LIKE SOMEONE WHO'S QUITE CYNICAL AND BITTER BECAUSE HE NEVER WON ANYTHING.

Coming out of closet as proud Oscar junkie
By Ray Richmond

I am a man who isn't gay, and I love the Oscars -- and I don't care who knows it!

There. That felt good.

Chris Rock can say what he wants about how only gay men and women watch it, how he had never seen the Academy Awards himself until he landed this Sunday's hosting gig, and how it's really just an extravaganza serving gossipy women and the masculinity-challenged.

But I have fathered three children, and the Oscarcast has never been less than Must See TV for me.

Of course, I always thought I hated musicals but then loved the movie "Chicago," so perhaps some personal re-evaluation is in order.

Having given this some thought, I realize the Oscars is the only show that, as far as I can recall, I have never missed since I was a toddler. Not once.

I have passed up entire Super Bowls but not the Oscars. I would sooner miss my next birthday.

So while I am well aware that the Academy Awards are considered "the Super Bowl for women" by the ad communityEDITOR'S NOTE: THE AD COMMUNITY SHOULD KEEP QUIET, CAUSE WHEN IT GETS QUOTED IT SOUNDS PRETTY STUPID. (THE SUPER BOWL VIEWERSHIP IS ABOUT 50% WOMEN. SO...UMM...THE SUPER BOWL IS THE SUPER BOWL FOR WOMEN). , I can't get enough of the thing. If this puts me in closer touch with my feminine side, so be it.

Watching it remains -- in my book -- just about the most fun one can have outside of a bedroom.

Here are 10 reasons why the Oscar telecast remains a great way to kill three hours-plus:
1. The possibility that at any given moment, someone could emerge dressed as a swan and carrying an egg purse -- No one does wretched excess like Oscar attendees. It isn't a fashion show so much as a masquerade party. Sitting at home in our underwear, we can all harbor our own designer dreams.

2. Scrutinizing the heartfelt words of someone sharing the biggest moment of their lives in front of an intimate gathering of several hundred million people -- We're all hoping that someone embarrasses himself in his acceptance speech because it makes great gossip fodder.EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE, AND I'M HOPING THEY DON'T. (BETTER YET, I'M HOPING THE WINNER IS BRITISH. CAUSE THEN, THEY NOT ONLY WON'T EMBARASS THEMSELVES, BUT THEY'LL BE BOTH POIGNANT AND WITTY).

3. The glory of witnessing celebrities opening envelopes that contain no party invitations or subpoenas -- There is no greater suspense than those fleeting seconds when the presenter goes off TelePrompTer.


5. Watching the faces of those who don't win for telltale signs of wrenching misery -- If the Academy Awards have taught us nothing else, it's that a smile is just a frown turned rightside-up.

6. Watching the faces (and upper torsos) of everyone for telltale signs of cosmetic surgery -- Enough with the "Who are you wearing?" stuff. It's time attendees are asked upon arrival, "Who injected your lips?"

7. Understanding the host's "in" jokes and feeling smugly superior as a result -- Being plugged in means never having to say "Sorry?"

8. That exciting element of unpredictability -- The fact that it's live allows for the possibility some clown may climb up on chairs screaming, "I'm Roberto Benigni, and I am so happy, I have lost my mind!"

9. Bonding with a roomful of like-minded movie nuts and feeling a sense of immense pride while saying stuff like, "I didn't read the book ... but I saw the movie." -- Books are so, like, 1985.

10. The knowledge that someone is relishing the Oscars at that very moment half a world away in Qatar or Tanzania -- Yes, someone's watching, using rabbit ears in a straw hut, mashing corn and beans for dinner and declaring, "You can't tell me Clint gave a better performance than Jamie." EDITOR'S NOTE: LOL!!! THIS ONE'S MY FAVORITE. AND I NOW HAVE A WONDERFUL IMAGE TO PICTURE FOR SUNDAY NIGHT.


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