Face facts: it's going to take more than a popular award
The Oscars has a problem. There was a nasty drop off in viewers this year from 32.9 million in 2017 to 26.5 million. Ouch. It’s the internet’s fault (isn’t everything?) but to combat this The Academy just announced a bunch of new tactics to get more eyeballs on statuettes. And people are already outraged at suggestions like a new popular movie category and technical awards getting screwed.
Here’s the thing: the awarding of the Awards isn’t the type of thing you need to witness with your own very eyes. The internet has indeed ruined that. You can scroll through a list of the winners, watch three minute clips of riotous acceptance speeches and envelope snafus on Facebook and YouTube that night or the next day.
So how do you compete with highlights? Well, the stuff around the Academy Awards themselves is essentially a mixture of standup and music and montages. This is what we have to work with. Starting with…
Step One: Get Haddish
Jimmy Kimmel is fine, he’s fine but if he presents the Oscars again, I’ll punch my MacBook. A few names have been flying around to present the 2019 Oscars next February – Ellen, Jordan Peele, Kumail Nanjiani, dream team Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – but if I had the Academy’s ear for just one piece of advice, I’d give them what for about The Dark Knight snub. And straight after that, I’d whisper menacingly: Get. Haddish.
If you’ve never heard of the unearthly delight that is Tiffany Haddish, get to YouTube right now. Watch last year’s Girls Trip and you won’t be able to take your eyes off her. Track down her SNL opener, or any talk show appearance, and you realise lots of comedians don’t actually get real, belly laughs from you but she does.
Haddish co-announced this year’s nominees and she was an Award presenter which is all very promising. The best bit? She can wear that expensive, white Alexander McQueen dress she wears to everything and then tell all the celebs about it. Haddish is right for 2019. Get her.
Step Two: Stream it globally
This is probably more important than even the presenter. The Oscars want to bump their viewing figures? Get it on more platforms internationally. In the UK in 2018, you could watch it via Now TV or Sky Cinema. That’s cool but hardly anyone knows that and it’s a faff and people have proven time and time again that they will only faff around with subscriptions for well, sports.
Traditionally, it has been way, way easier to catch the red carpet pre-show with streams on Facebook, Twitter etc for movie fans outside the US. I get it, the networks and platforms need to cut deals to make sure they make money from ads for the actual Awards. But come on, how hard can it be to work the ads out? It happens every year, they know their audience. Put it on YouTube with ad breaks, put it on Instagram Live Stories or Snapchat, put it on something.
Step Three: Make it a bit earlier
Not earlier in February which the Academy is already looking into, I mean earlier that day. This goes to my international viewers argument – there’s a reason we all Google the winners the next morning, it’s on bloody late.
The red carpets starts at 7pm local time in LA, the ceremony starts at 8.30pm. That’s 1.30am or thereabouts in the UK and Europe and it lasts three hours. Surely they can push it back by an hour or 90 minutes for the chance to get a whole continent of people who watch these movies on board?
I’m painfully aware this suggestion makes me sound like a cranky grandma but I don’t care, it’s sound advice.
Step Four: Let’s talk about popular movies
I have such mixed feelings about the announcement that there will be a new category that will celebrate popular film. That’s pretty vague so it could mean anything (stunts?) but the internet has decided this will be something along the lines of Best Popular Picture and that it’s being introduced to throw Black Panther a bone.
This is like the Academy trying to prove its no-brow but really proving it’s higher than high-brow, browier than Frida Kahlo’s brow brow and up-it’s-own-ass brow. It’s insulting to fans who love and respect sci-fi and action and horror, genres that tend to miss out on Best Picture noms.
The only way I can think to make this work is to automatically give the most nominated Best Popular Picture movie a slot in the ten-strong Best Picture category. Not sure how you’d work out the details on this one but there are some pretty complicated rules about films being knocked out and then No.2 votes being counted. So the Academy could make some new complicated rules about this.
Step Five: Manufacture some feuds
If Ryan Murphy’s fabulous mini-series Feud taught us anything it’s that the Oscars needs a celeb spat of Bette Davis/ Joan Crawford proportions. The episode which zeroed in on the 1963 Oscars was full of drama and intrigue as Crawford threw her own party, dressed like a silver Oscar and weaselled her way into accepting the Best Actress Award for Anne Bancroft.
Looking at the slate for 2019, here come the boys, it’s their turn. Damian Chazelle and Barry Jenkins could be encouraged to have some playful, public jibing over that whole La La Land/Moonlight envelope incident. Lucas Hedges vs Timothée Chalamet could also be cute.
We’re talking good, old-fashioned rivalry here not Weinstein-style smear campaigns. Just some very attractive, charismatic people play fighting please.
Step Six: Get everyone hyped up
This story is going to sound like a humblebrag but it isn’t. I was staying in Hollywood a few years ago for work but it was right around Oscars time and I walked past a huge Oscar statue, draped in cloth across the road from the venue. And even though I was jetlagged and hated Hollywood in general, it got me really hyped.
So yeah, I guess my idea here is huge Oscar statues in cities around the world leading up to the night itself. People might Instagram it OK.
Step Seven: Experiment with the less exciting categories
The Academy’s big idea to solve the problem of the show running on too long is to award less glam, technical categories in the ad breaks. Again, that’s pretty insulting to say, sound mixers who are members of the Academy and vote and may have been working their whole life to get this nomination/win. (On this note, don’t dare touch those charming movie montages, I adore them).
So try it, see who cries about it. Talk to the people in these categories about how they can still get their moment and maybe use the internet’s obsession with highlights to their advantage here.
If that all fails, maybe start doing a couple while Brie Larson’s still on the red carpet.
Step Eight: Step out of the #MeToo and #OscarsSoWhite shadows
The changes the Academy has been making to who can vote – tons of new, younger, more diverse members – should have even more of an effect on the nominations and winners in 209 than this year. The actual show needs to signal this fresh break with all the nasty shit that’s in Hollywood’s past and lead the charge. If it doesn’t, the Golden Globes or the BAFTAs or the SAG Awards might show it up.
Sure, the nominations are a big, important part of this – see Emma Stone’s pointed “these four men and Greta Gerwig” Best Director intro this year. But it also means doing more of what it’s already set in motion – more women presenters, LGBT presenters, black, asian and latino presenters. Make it clear the Oscars are for everyone as long as you’re putting out the good stuff.
Step Nine: Convince Beyoncé to sing movie songs
The music portion of the night is so hit and miss because it depends on the strength of the Best Original Song category. Karen O and Ezra Koenig singing ‘The Moon Song’ from Spike Jonze’s Her in 2014? That was magic. The cast of Les Mis awkwardly entering one by one and standing really far apart on stage as they sing a musical medley in 2013, meanwhile, was super cringe. (Not you Hugh Jackman, you can’t not nail it).
So if an actor sings an original song and doesn’t fancy performing, don’t make them. Pass it on to Beyoncé or Rihanna or Taylor Swift. In 2019 they’ll have Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born so that’s a lock for spectacle but after that, the Academy needs talent that can really perform and sing live and hold an audience. James Corden is an irritating human being but there’s no arguing with his opening song and dance for the Tonys in 2016. It was bloody entertaining.