The 2008 Academy Awards ceremony: It ain't dead yet.
Yesterday members of the Directors Guild announced that they have reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. That contract could -- key word: could -- finally lead to a new deal between the Writers Guild and the Hollywood studios. And what does that mean? Well, among other things, that the Oscars could go on as usual, with no protest from picketing scribes. George Clooney could walk the red carpet in front of the Kodak Theatre without fear of reprisal. Ryan Seacrest could again ask Clooney inane questions during E!'s pre-Oscar ceremony coverage. Viewers could again complain that the Academy Awards broadcast was way too long and boring. All would be right with the world.
Of course, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Thus far, the writers have only pledged to carefully "analyze and evaluate" the directors' contract. No one has gone back to the table yet. Also, in recent weeks, the writers have taken a particularly hard stance against the awards shows, vowing to bring down the Golden Globes (mission accomplished: see Billy Bush debacle), Grammys and the Oscars if that's what it takes for their needs to be met. Still, it's hard to imagine a scenario with no Academy Awards. After all, Gil Cates, producer of the Oscar telecast, was the lead negotiator for the Directors Guild. I have to think he's working hard to influence the writers and producers to resolve things. Why? So he can produce a real Oscar telecast and receive yet another Emmy nomination for his efforts. It all comes back to the awards, people.
Still, let's pause for a moment and consider, what if? What if the writers' strike remains unresolved and the Oscar planners have to resort to the mysterious Plan B alluded to in recent days? If this year's ceremony relies on, say, pre-taped segments and movie stars (gasp!) writing their own remarks, would it be so bad? I say maybe not. In fact, here are a few reasons why the alternate version of the Oscars could be the best thing to happen to the ceremony in years.
1. If Jon Stewart Hosts, He Might Actually Get to Improvise
It's unclear whether "The Daily Show" maestro would even emcee a reimagined Oscars. But if he did it without a carefully crafted script, imagine how much better it would be. I once asked Wanda Sykes if she would ever consider hosting the Oscars. Her answer: Something to the effect of "Hell, no." After serving as one of the writers for Chris Rock when he hosted the show in 2005, Sykes said she saw first-hand how the comic's voice was diffused for the purposes of the oh-so-important telecast. (Of course, now that Sykes is currently acting as the voice of an apple in an Applebee's commercial, she may want to rethink ruling out a hosting gig.) With traditional preparations thrown out the window, maybe a host like Stewart could finally play faster, looser and funnier.
2. Pre-Taped Could Mean Better Speeches
No offense to the writers, but the scripted banter between awards presenters is usually cringe-inducing. If each presenter -- say, the Will Ferrells and Jack Blacks of the world -- gets to decide what to say, that, too, could make things much more interesting. And if the winners have to accept their awards via satellite without standing in front of such an intimidating audience, maybe they'll even say something inspiring instead of mumbling their way through the most important moment of their careers (I'm looking at you, Alan Arkin).
3. An Unpredictable Oscar Night = Higher Ratings?
We all know the ratings for the Golden Globes plunged because of the strike. But the Globes aren't the Oscars. And no one at Academy Awards Central is stupid enough to put Billy Bush in charge. Last year's Oscar ratings were up a teensy bit over 2006, I think partly because moviegoers had actually seen "The Departed." This year, as good as many of the films are, they're not exactly blockbusters or crowd-pleasers. "No Country for Old Men"? "There Will Be Blood"? Neither is attracting the masses. So the last, best hope for the telecast to see a ratings bump could be the buzz of controversy that picketing will bring and the notion that, for once, everyone involved in the show really is flying by the seat of their high-end designer pants.
It almost makes an awards show junkie wish the strike would continue, if only for curiosity's sake.
Guest blogger Jen Chaney is the movies editor for washingtonpost.com and hosts the annual online chat on Oscar night. She also is embarrassed to admit that she teared up a little when Gwyneth Paltrow blubbered her way through her Oscar acceptance speech in 1999.