Other than the Oscars, every major awards show operates within fairly rigid time constraints, forcing producers to trim the telecast on the fly as speeches run long in order to finish at or close to the allotted time.
The absence of a host — and the protracted guessing game the Academy invited by not clearing up its plans after Kevin Hart backed out — certainly clouded the format of this year’s awards.
Still, the telecast won’t be lacking for star power. Confirmed elements include having various luminaries — among them Congressman John Lewis, tennis great Serena Williams and Barbra Streisand — introduce the eight best-picture nominees, and performing all the nominated songs, highlighted by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s duet from “A Star is Born.”
There have also been reports that the producers plan to assemble the cast of the “Avengers” movies — not incidentally, a synergistic promotion for the upcoming Marvel sequel being released by Disney, which is also the corporate parent of ABC.
Addressing reporters earlier this month, ABC Entertainment chief Karey Burke struck an optimistic tone, saying uncertainty surrounding the telecast has actually helped stoke interest in it.
Still, the main thing this year’s Oscars have going for them– after last year’s record-low ratings — appears to be the nominees themselves, which include several hugely popular films, led by Marvel’s first entry in the best-picture race, “Black Panther,” but also “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the aforementioned “A Star is Born.”
In addition, genuine suspense over what will win best picture — thanks in part to the lack of consensus among guild awards leading up to the Oscars — should maintain an element of genuine suspense regarding who will win that previous telecasts have often lacked.
Looking back, it’s worth noting that despite being panned by critics, ratings for the aforementioned 61st Academy Awards actually ticked up slightly, to 42.7 million viewers, an audience total more recent Oscars can envy. And one innovation from that year has lived on: the switch from “And the winner is…” when presenting awards to “And the Oscar goes to…,” a move designed to underscore that the other nominees didn’t lose.
Thanks in part to the chaos that preceded them, these Oscars will be nitpicked and second-guessed to death. Then again, when it comes to the Oscars and Monday-morning quarterbacking, the more things change, the more they generally stay the same.
The 91st Academy Awards air Feb. 24 on ABC.