Oscars: Murphy resigns as host; Grazer to exec-produce

November 9, 2011

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 emcee 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 current flick “Tower Heist,” in which Murphy is hoping to make his career comeback. But then, about 24 hours after Ratner resigned, the academy announced that Brian Grazer would take his place.

Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment produced “Tower Heist”!

Hiring Grazer might be a ploy to get Murphy — whose closest brush with Academy Awards fame came in 2007, when he stormed out of the hall in a huff after losing the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in “Dreamgirls” — to return.

It’s really hard to keep up with the 2012 Academy Awards’ “Tower Heist” gimmick.

“I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner,” academy President Tom Sherak said Wednesday in a statement.

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, such TV series as Fox’s “Prison Break” and about a hundred music videos.

When Ratner was announced to produce next year’s 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 2011 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 is, 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 atwitter about it the next day, but that was owing to the epic flame-out of Franco and Hathaway. And the ratings came in 12 percent lower among younger viewers compared with those of 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.

“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 Friday, when Ratner — taking questions after a screening of “Tower Heist” — said that “rehearsing is for [homophobic slur].”

That did not sit well with academy members. Ratner apologized quickly, and the apology was accepted.

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 sleep with 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 an actress because he thought she was particularly hot. Presumably, he thought she’d be flattered.

Moving briskly, an outraged 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 only par for the course.

In naming Ratner to produce the Oscars, 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 equal more viewers, the academy reasoned.

Consider this: In 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 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 44 million watched.

That year’s host?

Billy Crystal — it was his last.

Kimmel v. Allred

Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and Herman Cain — the gift that keeps on giving to ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

“In case you haven’t been following this story, a woman named Sharon Bialek held a press conference yesterday during which she made very specific allegations against Herman Cain,” Kimmel said very late Tuesday — 24 hours after the GOP presidential candidate came on his show to exchange sexual double-entendres and to guffaw and harrumph with Kimmel about the women who have made sexual harassment accusations against Cain.

On Tuesday morning, Allred and Bialek did the morning-show circuit: “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “The Early Show,” cable news nets, blah, blah, blah. During one appearance, Allred nicked Cain for having gone on Kimmel’s show because, she said, the issue of sexual harassment is no joke.

This is the late-night TV version of show-host catnip. Which, of course, is what Allred was counting on. You know that Circle of Life you learned about in “The Lion King”? It’s like that — only TV.

“You know what, you’re right, Gloria!” Kimmel responded via his opening bit Tuesday night. “Making jokes about something like this would be extremely inappropriate!”

You know what’s coming. He cut to the clip of Allred’s spot-on delivery of her “stimulus package” gag, with which she opened her Monday news conference revealing The Fourth Woman, Bialek.

“I guess the ‘no joke’ must be a new rule she implemented this morning. So we’re even,” Kimmel said as if he meant it to sting.

“The important thing is that Gloria Allred gets to be on TV,” Kimmel snipped. “She has to. Or she’ll melt.”

In case you’re pop-culture challenged, that’s a Wicked Witch of the West reference from “The Wizard of Oz.”

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