It’s probably safe to say that the Academy Awards telecast has never seen so much pre-show news coverage as it has in 2011.
The Oscars first made modest waves with the announcement of critical whipping-boy Brett Ratner as producer for next year’s forthcoming show, and then again when Ratner tapped his friend (and star of his new movie, Tower Heist) Eddie Murphy as Oscars host, a move that generated legitimate buzz in major media circles.
After Murphy quit the show in a somewhat befuddling move of solidarity with Ratner, Grazer wasted no time in seeking out his replacement. The idea was to land a star whose heat could maintain the momentum generated by the initial announcement of Murphy as host, to bring back those viewers who are tired of the same, stagnant show of yesteryear (even a show dressed up with James Franco and Anne Hathaway).
The result of Grazer’s search? Billy. Freaking. Crystal.
Perhaps the textbook example of a “safe” pick to host the Oscars (he’s run the show eight times previous), Crystal might well have been the only reasonable alternative given the timeline upon which the event is set. Crystal has been reliably competent in the past, managing the gravitas of the event with an appropriate balance of levity and reverence. And, let’s face it, it’s not like he’s got anything else going on that will conflict with The 84th Academy Awards.
Yet even left in his capable hands, settling for Crystal feels like something approaching a tremendous letdown, a squandering of interest and goodwill that could have proven just the shot in the arm that the Oscars has so desperately been seeking in recent years.
And so, as the awards show faithfuls trudge back to our televisions this February, we’ll be left to wonder what could have been… and to fantasize about what might someday be.
To that end, let’s look at a few of the more exciting options that have as yet been unexplored as potential Oscars hosts.
In a just world, Conan would have been the only choice to preside over the Academy Awards. In the two years-plus since his tumultuous stint as host of The Tonight Show, the subsequent fallout of his clash with NBC and eventual migration to basic cable, Conan has grown up an awful lot. He’s still got the silly, gangly schoolboy persona he’s always had, but now, a closer look at the aging O’Brien shows a grizzled-ness belied less by his beard than the permeating sense that this guy has been through something.
At the peak (or nadir) of his suspension from TV, “Coco” embarked on a cross-country comedy/musical revue tour while at the end of his metaphorical rope, the filming of which resulted in one of 2011’s most acclaimed and entertaining documentaries, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. Now—for perhaps the first time—O’Brien feels like a celebrity and personality who can and should command the most prestigious entertainment event of the televised year.
While her real-life pregnancy and new child led to the postponement of a new season of 30 Rock and would likely preclude her ability/willingness to host this year, Fey possesses just about every quality that a potential host should embody, beginning first and foremost with the fact that she’s one of the single most respected and beloved creative figures in the industry today.
She’s presented statuettes at the Oscars before, and in her previous roles (both behind and in front of the screen) at Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, she’s demonstrated her abilities as a multi-faceted dynamo. Were she to be given the gig, she’d be just the third woman to host the show solo, following only Ellen DeGeneres (who hosted once, in 2006) and Whoopi Goldberg (four times between 1993 and 2001).
If the Academy would like to improve on that figure with another enormously capable female candidate, Fey is the perfect choice.
Some suggested a return for Chris Rock would perhaps be overdue, given his successful showing as host in 2004 and the somewhat inexplicable fact that he’s yet to be asked back, but if the Academy truly wanted to capitalize on the general sense of curious anticipation that giving the once-notorious Murphy a live microphone momentarily inspired, they missed maybe their best chance at one-upping themselves.
Dave Chappelle has been a figure shrouded in mystery ever since he walked away from huge money and a runaway hit show on Comedy Central amid rumors of everything from a drug habit to a nervous breakdown. While he’s since surfaced intermittently preceding a much-ballyhooed “return to comedy,” the results have been decidedly hit-and-miss.
Slaying a crowd for over two hours at 4 a.m one night, and angrily glowering at the audience for 45 minutes the next, what does the Academy have to lose by handing him one of the most-watched and most-revered comedic stages in the world for one night only?
In theory, setting the Oscars stage as the coming-out-again party for Chappelle’s stand-up could potentially blow up in their faces, but it could also yield one of the all-time-greats. And no matter what would happen, the ratings would be huge.
His nightly counterpart had his turn, and Mr. Stewart succeeded admirably in his duties, but in 2012, Stephen Colbert has the juice to really bring it as an Oscars host. The War for Late Night author Bill Carter repeatedly singled out Colbert in his book as a player to watch for the future of cable’s biggest talk franchises and a talent with the clear ambition to rise to any occasion and opportunity.
Beneath his nightly guise as the character of “Stephen Colbert” on The Colbert Report, Colbert’s full-range as a performer might have become somewhat underrated in the last few years, even as his show has continued to grow in success and stature.
Colbert represents one of the highest-“potential” picks amongst Oscars host hopefuls. Perhaps not yet a household name, but one on the verge who could turn a successful stint with the Academy into another stepping stone on his way to greatness.