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July 30, 2014

Oscars Telecast Suffers From Expanded Best Picture Field

by Scott Harris, posted Mar 8th 2010 1:03AM
When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last year that they would be expanding the Best Picture field to 10 films for their 82nd annual awards, the reaction was immediate, as pundits and cinephiles debated whether the move would dilute the importance of the awards. Slipping through the cracks, though, was how the change would affect the broadcast and the ceremony itself.

Well, now we know, because the ramifications were seen early and often throughout the show, which aired last night on ABC. While producer Adam Shankman wisely used the change as an excuse to emphasize the films and the performances themselves -- something viewers were clued into from the first moments, when this year's crop of Best Actor and Best Actress nominees gathered on the stage to kick off the ceremony -- the inclusion of extended clip packages for nominees and testimonials from fellow actors led not only to one of the longest broadcasts in recent awards show memory but also to the removal of several Oscar staples, including the Best Song performances.When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced last year that they would be expanding the Best Picture field to 10 films for their 82nd annual awards, the reaction was immediate, as pundits and cinephiles debated whether the move would dilute the importance of the awards. Slipping through the cracks, though, was how the change would affect the broadcast and the ceremony itself.

Well, now we know, because the ramifications were seen early and often throughout the show, which aired last night on ABC. While producer Adam Shankman wisely used the change as an excuse to emphasize the films and the performances themselves -- something viewers were clued into from the first moments, when this year's crop of Best Actor and Best Actress nominees gathered on the stage to kick off the ceremony -- the inclusion of extended clip packages for nominees and testimonials from fellow actors led not only to one of the longest broadcasts in recent awards show memory but also to the removal of several Oscar staples, including the Best Song performances.


Also conspicuously absent from the broadcast: the Academy's honorary honorees, which historically have provided the telecast with some of its most moving moments. Alas, legends such as Roger Corman and Lauren Bacall were reduced to minor cameos, with their awards presented at an earlier, untelevised ceremony in order to hasten the main event's production time. Likewise relegated to a footnote were the 43 technicians and artists recognized at the Academy's Sci-Tech Awards, whose contributions to the film industry were encapsulated by a single group photo and a few one liners from Elizabeth Banks.

Considering the amount of fat trimmed out of the broadcast to fit in the expanded field of nominees, then, the fact that the show went over its planned running time by more than a full half hour is a bit on the puzzling side. It certainly wasn't the fault of co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin who, after a lively opening monologue, essentially remained off stage for most of the broadcast, suggesting that in the future perhaps no hosts at all will be necessary, an idea that The Golden Globes has utilized successfully in the past.

In many ways, though, this year's Oscars had the feel of an institution in transition; while some segments restored the focus to the actors and films, trusting that the movies themselves would hold attention more than the kind of flash and pomp that live song performances and comedy routines have provided in the past, other holdovers proved to be a curious use of time. The tribute to horror movies, for example, seemed hardly worthy of bumping Bacall, especially considering you can easily find similar montages on YouTube at your leisure. And the dance numbers during the Best Score mashup, while certainly more modern than most recent Oscar routines, felt a bit old-fashioned in concept if not in execution. Do fans of 'Avatar' who tuned in to the show really want to see an extended experimental dance program?

In the end, then (if anyone managed to stay awake that long), we think the Academy needs to decide just what direction they are looking to go in. If they want to continue with 10 nominees in the hopes of drawing in fans of more movies to watch the show, then they should spend their limited time celebrating the films those fans are tuning in to cheer on. But if they want people to watch because of spectacle alone, then they should go back to five and give the producers time to crank up the music and dancing to new -- and more entertaining -- levels.

Because otherwise, their decision to revert to the phrase "and the winner is" will be rendered moot, as most exhausted viewers will already know the winner: their pillows.
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