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TV Column
Posted at 06:25 PM ET, 11/09/2011

Eddie Murphy quits as Oscars host [Updated]


Actor Eddie Murphy attends the premiere of "Tower Heist.” (Peter Kramer - AP)

ABC and the motion picture academy found themselves scrambling to find a new producer AND a new host for the Feb. 26 Academy Awards telecast, after Eddie Murphy quit as show host Wednesday afternoon — one day after the trophy show’s exec producer Brett Ratner resigned.

Murphy’s move was an apparent show of support for Ratner, who is the director of the flick “Tower Heist,” in which Murphy hopes to make his career comeback.

But, about 24 hours after Ratner resigned, the academy announced Brian Grazer would take Ratner’s place — and Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment PRODUCED “Tower Heist”!

Now, Murphy -- whose closest brush with Oscar fame was that time, in 2007, when he stormed out of the hall in a huff, after losing the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “Dreamgirls” -- might be back in.

It’s really hard to keep up with this Academy Awards show “Tower Heist” gimmick.

“I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner,” academy president Tom Sherak said Wednesday in a statement, after the comic turned actor resigned.

Murphy got the hosting gig after the academy announced that Ratner would produce the 2012 trophy show. Ratner’s credits include the flicks “Horrible Bosses,” “X Men: The Last Stand” and the “Rush Hour” franchise, and such TV series as Fox’s “Prison Break” - and about a hundred music videos.

When Ratner was announced to produce the upcoming orgy of trophy dispensing, it was another of those naked grabs for ratings among young viewers that advertisers lust after. Kind of like when the academy named James Franco and Anne Hathaway to co-host the most recent show because their big selling point was their age. Hathaway was the trophy show’s youngest host ever and Franco isn’t much older than she, the academy and ABC bragged when that co-host announcement was made.

As we all know, that did not turn out well. Yes, people were all a-twitter about it the next day, but that was owing to the epic flame-out of the co-hosts. And the ratings came in 12 percent lower, among younger viewers, compared with the previous year, when Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin hosted.

“First and foremost, I want to say that I completely understand and support each party’s decision with regard to a change of producers for this year’s Academy Awards ceremony,” Murphy said Wednesday in his carefully crafted statement of resignation.

“I was truly looking forward to being a part of the show that our production team and writers were just starting to develop, but I’m sure that the new production team and host will do an equally great job,” Murphy concluded.

It all started last Friday, when Ratner — taking questions after a screening of “Tower Heist” - said “rehearsing is for [homophobic slur].” This did not sit well with academy members. Ratner apologized quickly.

Then Ratner went on Howard Stern’s radio show and prattled on happily about masturbation, the size of the family jewels, condoms - he’s not a fan, but now concedes they are useful - and how he insists that the women he wants to shag first get checked out by his doctor to make sure they don’t have any sexually transmitted diseases. He also acknowledged having made up a claim about having had sex with a female actress because he thought she was particularly hot. Presumably, he thought she’d be flattered.

Moving briskly, an incensed academy accepted Ratner’s resignation.

“He did the right thing for the Academy and for himself,” Sherak said in the wake of that resignation. “Words have meaning, and they have consequences. Brett is a good person, but his comments were unacceptable.”

Such a pity the academy members hadn’t Googled “Ratner” before picking him in the first place; they might have known that his comments were par for the course.

In naming Ratner to produce the trophy show, the academy had the good sense to pair him with Don Mischer, a well-respected veteran of high-profile live-TV programming, whose credits include the most recent Academy Awards broadcast, the Obama inaugural celebration, numerous Super Bowl halftime shows and opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Mischer has made no move to resign.

Another bit of good news: the host doesn’t really matter. It’s about the movies. That’s why, in 2009, the film academy decided to embrace 10 Best Picture nominees, instead of the traditional five. More movies = more viewers, the academy reasoned.

Consider this: 1995, the year David Letterman hosted - and even he acknowledges that it was a disaster - the trophy show clocked one of its biggest audiences ever: 48 million people. That’s because “Forrest Gump” was expected to clean up.

The Oscar show’s biggest TV audience on record aired came in 1998, which came toward the end of Billy Crystal’s long run as go-to host. More than 55 million tuned in.

It was the year of “Titanic.”

Last year, despite the much-ballyhooed casting of Franco and Hathaway, the Oscar show clocked a paltry 38 million viewers.

It was the year of “The King’s Speech.”

The most watched Academy Awards in recent history was the February 29, 2004, broadcast - the year of “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” An average of about 44 million watched.

That year’s host?

Billy Crystal - it was his last.

Do you think that the Academy will choose a tried-and-true awards show host, or a first-timer? Vote in the poll below, and tell us who your dream host would be in the comments.

By  |  06:25 PM ET, 11/09/2011

 
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