On Friday morning, comedian Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting this year’s Oscars after 7-year-old homophobic tweets surfaced. By now, debacles such as this are sad and predictable, but this one is also illustrative of the Oscars’ ever-increasing irrelevance.
Finding a host for the Oscars has become near-impossible, and until announcing Hart last week, the Academy had been desperate. With little more than two months to go, no other star was willing to sign on. A recent Hollywood Reporter column assailed hosting the Oscars as “a gig that almost no one should want” and reported that of two-time hosts Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock, most have said they’d never do it again.
Why would they? A dirty secret of Hollywood’s most glamorous and important night: Hosts are paid a pittance — in 2017, Jimmy Kimmel said his pay was $15,000. (ABC charged $2.6 million for 30-second ads during 2018’s telecast — half of what that year’s Super Bowl got.)
“I think it’s illegal to pay nothing,” Kimmel said during an interview in KROQ that year. “I’m not sure I was supposed to reveal this, but nobody told me not to … They asked like 14 people, and they all said no, and then there was me.”
Kimmel said he knew that Chris Rock and Billy Crystal — who last hosted in 2012 — were paid the same amount to work for at least six weeks, sometimes with their own writing staff, to craft material that is somehow funny yet toothless, designed not to puncture a single ego in the room. It’s a decades-long prediction and criticism: The Oscars ceremony is too long. It’s boring. Yet year after year, as ratings fall and irrelevance rises, the Academy refuses to modernize or truncate the show, insisting it just can’t be done. Why not? It’s not colonizing Mars. It’s famous, rich, beautiful people celebrating other famous, rich, beautiful people. Why do the Oscars even need a host? We’re in a fully automated age anyway.
Perhaps the Academy is still scarred from the last hostless ceremony, back in 1989, when Rob Lowe opened the show singing “Proud Mary” with an actress playing Snow White. It was, to paraphrase producer Scott Rudin, a camp event nonpareil, and led to 17 screen legends, Paul Newman and Gregory Peck among them, signing an open letter calling the ceremony “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.”
This is a sad and predictable situation, but it’s also illustrative of the Oscars’ ever-increasing irrelevance.
Anne Hathaway and James Franco co-hosted in 2011. So disastrous was their pairing and the subsequent criticism that Franco told Howard Stern he locked himself in a hotel room for days to ride out the humiliation. “I shouldn’t have been doing it,” Franco said later. His friend Seth Rogen blamed the sclerotic Academy itself.
“I think when you agree to do something like that, you put a certain amount of faith in the institution, hoping that they’ll take care of you, and I feel like they didn’t [take care of him],” Rogen told Shortlist.com that year. “Why hire James Franco and then give him Billy Crystal’s monologue? It was like, ‘Oh, we’ll hire these young f–king hosts and then we’ll just do the same s–t we do every f- -king year.’”
And then there was 2013’s host, Seth MacFarlane, who was somehow allowed to perform an entire song called “We Saw Your Boobs,” in which he named actresses in the crowd who had done nudity — including those in films such as “Silkwood” and “The Accused.” Never, ever would that fly today, and it makes you wonder just how many old white men are still running this show.
It’s become an awards-season cliche to compare the Oscars to its less legit but boozier, looser cousin, the Golden Globes, but surely notes can be taken. Number one might be to take the entire enterprise less seriously.
One of the most memorable Globes moments ever lives as a meme still, Lady Gaga nudging Leonardo DiCaprio’s arm out of her way as she walked to the stage. This 2016 nugget contains multitudes, analyzed by gossip fiends as closely as the Zapruder film: an unimpressed DiCaprio joking with someone off-screen; Gaga’s imperious stride as she goes to collect an award for, essentially, camp; her nudge, delivered without looking down; and finally, DiCaprio’s face, which registers surprise, bemusement, mockery, disdain and dismissal in maybe two seconds flat, reminding us again that he is one of our greats.
Now that’s entertainment.