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Academy Awards Broadcast Was a Comedy of Errors and an Error of Comedy

by Danny Gallagher, posted Mar 8th 2010 7:38AM
The Best Picture goes to
There was a great industry joke lobbed at the Hollywood awards machine by the short-lived but loved TV cartoon 'The Critic.' The joke featured a Midwestern farmer and his boy spotting a plane headed to Hollywood.

"Yep, son," the wide-eyed farm says with a big pitchfork in his all-American paw, "on that plane are the people who fill our lives with blockbuster movies, moronic situation comedies, awards shows where awards shows win awards. Get my gun, boy."

If the 82nd Academy Awards takes home an Emmy or even a nomination for their television broadcast, just about every middle American farmer with a sidearm will land on a terror alert watch list and every first class flight from New York to Hollywood will have to divert over the Gulf of Mexico in order to avoid the inevitable strafe of gunfire from America's heartland.

The entire affair just felt contained, as if the producers and directors wanted to make sure that not a single moment of the evening went off the script. And when you have that many screws holding together something as big as the Oscars, a few of them are bound to loosen, fly off and hit someone in the eye.

The whole broadcast was a night of a thousand bloopers, minus Dick Clark and Ed McMahon. Lights didn't get placed on parts of the audience in the opening monologue, so you couldn't see the punchline target's reactions. Tapes weren't cued up, so you had minor but noticeable moments such as when Sandra Bullock realized she was still on camera and had to read the nominations aloud.

The worst of them all was during the traditional "In Memoriam" montage. The camera starts with a wide shot of the screen and singer James Taylor belting out a sweet tune to an opening image of the late Patrick Swayze. Then two other figures appeared on the screen but you couldn't read who they were because of the white text on a white background, so some of them got missed and weren't even recognized, except by a few film buffs and their grieving families. It didn't even acknowledge this mistake in the rest of the broadcast, so two very hard working people missed their remembrance for their lifetime of achievement.

These mistakes overshadowed some of the small noticeable changes and laughs that made the first half of the evening go by faster than normal, only for some of the bigger nominations to have long-winded introductions that ground the whole thing to a halt. The sheer number of technical errors, gaffs, boo-boos, mistakes and just flat out screw-ups became the leaks in a ship that tried to run tighter than it should.

Everything was over-scripted, from the jokes down to the few comedic awards speeches (although Stanley Tucci deserves praise for his very funny and heartfelt homage to human Oscar nomination machine Meryl Streep), so that nothing offensive, disagreeable or mildly bleepable could leak out over the airwaves and infect the ears of small children who are smart enough to go to bed early on Oscar night in the first place.

Some of the opening jokes were funny, since Steve Martin knows how to deliver a punchline better than anyone in the biz and Alec Baldwin clearly had some fun bouncing ribs off each other's dueling egos. The two had some zany short sketches that spoofed 'Paranormal Activity' and the Snuggie that left me wanting more. Neil Patrick Harris' surprise opening number was incoherent at times thanks to bad sound, but he has an untapped wealth of energy that can make even the most callous heart crack a smile just by being in the room.

Ben Stiller had probably the biggest laugh of the night as he walked in dressed as one of the 'Avatar' characters, complete with a long tail and yellow eyes that looked like the world's most uncomfortable pair of contact lenses. It was planned to be a dual skit with Sacha Baron Cohen that fell apart before the broadcast, with Cohen sporting a pregnant Na'vi costume that would have had me pouring soap in my eyes for a full week.

The comedy, however, suffered because it all felt so scripted. The entire broadcast was on a short leash with a shock collar that went off anytime anyone on stage had even a remotely dirty or offensive thought. Live TV used to have the air of dangerousness to it, but recent events have struck fear into the hearts of broadcasters and now every live event has more industrial strength nets beneath it than Marlon Brando doing a trapeze act on 'Circus of the Stars.'

The best moments of Oscars past were those that happened off-the-cuff and without rehearsal. They happen every year whether the Academy wants them to or not like Steve Martin's hilarious joke about Michael Moore's anti-Bush acceptance speech and Whoopi Goldberg's interaction with the audience, even the ones with the poorly pronounced curse words. It even sneaked across the safety fence this year when producer Elinor Burkett pulled what's already being called a "Kanye" from director Roger Williams as they accepted their Best Documentary award. (Read the reasoning behind that tense moment at Salon.com).

Stopping those moments is impossible and attempting to prevent them is futile. The best television doesn't come from rehearsals, something the crew behind the Oscars clearly didn't put any effort into in the first place.
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gideon waxfarb

Maybe it wasn't lemmons.

March 08 2010 at 10:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought both Steve Martin & Alec Baldwin did a fine job as duel hosts & they were funny.Not only did the Ben Stiller Avatar segment bomb as others have noted here,this is exactly the type of material they should cease doing at the Academy Awards.If they dropped the comedic bits which are rarely amusing there would then be more time for the In Memoriam tribute for those special folks who've passed away.And what the heck was up with that backdrop that had lampshades attached to poles?

March 08 2010 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought the Sandra Bullock moment was particularly egregious. She was giving the award for CINEMATOGRAPHY. But no clips. Clips for sound engineer, and clips with subtitles for screenplay, and clips for makeup and costumes, but no CLIPS for cinematography. So very, very lame.

March 08 2010 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well I think you were too critical of the show. I work in the TV business and even I found my self enjoying the Awards. It's a live show, mistakes are going to happen, but you move on. Most of the mistakes I just forgot about. I was mesmerized by all the history this one show brings with all the actors from different eras.

March 08 2010 at 12:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to StylerEX's comment

There was a staggering amount of gaffes, particularly compared to previous Oscar Ceremonies. I used to wonder how the Emmy Award often went to the Oscar telecast over shows like Lettermen. Now I know why. Live TV isn't easy, but this was often noticeably bad.

March 08 2010 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why was Michael Jackson in the Memorium segment in the first place. He's no actor.

March 08 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John's comment
Brett Alan

He was one of the stars of the film version of The Wiz, and he contributed to many films as a singer/musician. Also, the "Thriller" music video was a major landmark, and technically it was a short film (it was shown briefly in theaters to qualify for Oscar eligibility).

March 08 2010 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Has there been any explanation of why Clooney's date, Elizabetta What's-her-face, always looked like she'd just eaten an entire crate of lemons?

March 08 2010 at 11:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brett Alan

Apparently the two "hidden" In Memorium people were composer Maurice Jarre and Western star Monte Hale. Terrible that their names couldn't be seen, but since it happened last year I doubt the producers even consider it a mistake.

Found the show mostly very dull. The hosts had poor material (with a few exceptions, such as "that damn Helen Mirren) and their comic timing was terrible. Worse yet, there was very little acknowledgment of movie history, which is usually one of the strong parts of the awards. Other than Barbra Streisand, I don't think any of the presenters became stars before the 80s.

Two nasty errors: When Up was introduced, it was identified as the second film nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature; it's the first. (Beauty & The Beast was nominated for Best Picture, but the Best Animated Feature award hadn't been introduced yet.) And the horror montage was introduced with the claim that Oscar has not acknowledged a horror film since The Exorcist, but the montage included Misery and The Silence of the Lambs, which both won major Oscars long after The Exorcist.

March 08 2010 at 11:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Brett Alan's comment
gideon waxfarb

Misery and Silence Of The Lambs are NOT horror films!!

March 08 2010 at 10:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Biggest oversight: Neglecting Farrah Fawcett in the 'In Memoriam". They include Michael Jackson, but not Farrah!? Personally, Id rather hear the clips as well as see them instead of someone singing live.

I did laugh out loud a couple times: Like at the beginning when Steve and Alec just stood there after mentioning George Clooney! But like you, the reviewer, I was hoping for more Steve and Alec moments like the Paranormal Activity sketch. That's why I always loved it when Billy Crystal was host, he put himself in all the best picture nominee movies.

March 08 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to SISSERS's comment

I completely agree with Sissers. You mention a white on white name, but not the fact that someone HUGE was missing?! I could read all the names, so I'm not sure what you're talking about there, but Farrah Fawcett was a big mistake.

March 08 2010 at 11:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Equally big mistakes were leaving out Bea Arthur and James Whitmore.

March 08 2010 at 2:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They should have called in the WWE to produce it. They put on a live, 2 hour show 50 Monday nights a year.

March 08 2010 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I thought it was a snooze fest! I kept switiching channels because it was dragging on and on...... The part where people come out to rave about the nominees for best actor and actress was awful. The actors were trying to win an actor, not the Nobel peace prize.
Boring and dull. Yawn.

March 08 2010 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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