On paper, MacFarlane seemed a perfect choice to host this year’s song-and-dance heavy Oscar show, when he was announced back in October.
While MacFarlane has admitted he’s no dancer, he can sing — in 2011 he recorded an album of swing-jazz tunes called “Music is Better Than Words.” And he’s already demonstrated his hosting skills at Comedy Central roasts of David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen. MacFarlane’s the only host to be asked back again in the history of the franchise.
“His performing skills blend perfectly with our ideas for making the show entertaining and fresh,” said this year’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — the song-and-dance-loving producers of such flicks as “Flashdance” and “Chicago,” TV adaptations of Broadway musicals “Gypsy,” “Annie” and “The Music Man,” and producers of NBC’s let’s-make-a-musical drama series “Smash.”
He also brings an anticipatory edge to this year’s Oscarcast that may help goose its ratings, which seemed destined to rank poorly when the nominees were announced, with nary a box-office blockbuster in the best-picture race.
Oscar ratings have everything to do with that year’s best-picture contenders and not very much to do with the host, Nielsen numbers demonstrate every year.
The most-watched Oscar show on record remains the 1998 ceremony, when “Titanic” was in the running for best picture and more than 55 million fans tuned in to see it win.
That year’s host, Billy Crystal, also hosted the ceremony one year earlier but logged 20 million fewer viewers because there was no “Titanic” in the best-picture race. That year’s winner: art-housey “The English Patient,” besting “Fargo,” “Secrets & Lies,” “Shine” and “Jerry Maguire.”
Meanwhile, the most-savaged Oscar host (before Franco) was Letterman, but his 1995 ceremony clocked nearly 49 million viewers — the Oscars’ third-biggest crowd ever. “Forrest Gump” was crowned best picture that year.
Conversely, when the much-loved Stewart hosted the ceremony in 2008, the Academy Awards suffered its smallest crowd on record — about
32 million viewers. “No Country for Old Men” won the best-picture derby in a field that also included “Atonement,” “Juno,” “Michael Clayton” and “There Will Be Blood.”
But this year might just be different, based on the quantities of searingly bad press MacFarlane’s already received. People may tune in to see just how far MacFarlane will go when the stage is his. Will he go Ricky-Gervais-at-the-2011-Golden-Globes far? (That was the year Gervais flogged the audience right and left, and introduced the head of Globes-sponsoring Hollywood Foreign Press Association by announcing to the Hollywood glitterati in the room that “I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in.”)
MacFarlane’s already demonstrated a knack for turning a trophy-show non-starter into major noise. During Emmy voting in 2012, his mailer to voters for “Family Guy,” which included the phrase “Come on, you bloated, overprivileged Brentwood Jews. Let us into your little club,” sent the press into a ecstasy of outrage. That included trade publication the Hollywood Reporter, which interviewed (it said) several “Brentwood” producers for their reaction, while being sure to note that “several outlets, including THR, rejected the ad.”
When the hoped-for controversy erupted, MacFarlane placidly told E! Entertainment, “Hollywood is a town of very well-to-do folks who live very comfortably. They have a very comfortable lifestyle, they do what they love, there’s not much that is bad in their life. So they should be able to laugh at themselves. If they can’t, it’s a rather sad thing.”
To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/