Can Jon Stewart Goose Oscar? Take a Look in the Crystal Ball.

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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, January 6, 2006

The board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has chosen the co-star of "Death to Smoochy" and "Big Daddy" to host its prestigious Academy Awards ceremony, which this year will again be broadcast on ABC.

"What a terrific addition to our roster of great hosts!" academy President Sid Ganis said in yesterday's announcement of the selection of Jon Stewart -- better known to small-screen aficionados as the host of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."

And we're here to let you know that the March 5 trophy show will be a load of fun to watch -- Stewart got high marks for hosting the Grammy Awards in 2001 and 2002 -- and will be low-rated. Not because of Stewart, though he is not a household name, but because this year was a real box office dog. Oscar numbers have everything to do with that year's horse race and virtually nothing to do with the host.

Longtime host Billy Crystal reportedly took himself out of the running this year, citing scheduling conflicts. Last year's host, Chris Rock, was not asked back, probably because he was not particularly good at it, and besides, he failed to bring in the younger crowd the academy and the network thought he'd snag.

With Rock as emcee, the Oscarcast scored a smaller rating among 18-to-49-year-olds -- the age bracket ABC sells to advertisers -- than the previous year's show, hosted by oldster Crystal.

That's because last year's big winner was the three-hankie flick "Million Dollar Baby," while in '04 the box office blockbuster "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" wiped out the competition.

Another case in point: The year that David Letterman hosted the Academy Awards -- and was universally panned for his performance -- the show snared its biggest audience in more than a decade, more than 48 million viewers. Just once since then has Letterman's Oscarcast audience been bested -- in 1998, the year "Titanic" mopped up.

That year's show was hosted by Crystal, who was then in his fifties and promoting the upcoming release of "My Giant," his tour de force flick. And, speaking of younger viewers, that '98 Oscarcast still holds the crown as the highest rated among kids, teenagers, 18-to-34-year-olds, 18-to-49-year-olds, 25-to-54-year-olds and 50-plus-year-olds since Nielsen began disseminating demographic information in the early '90s.

For sure, Rock did do a bit better among 18-to-34-year-olds than Crystal did in '04. On the other hand, Rock's performance with that age group was not nearly as good as Crystal's when he hosted in '00, nor did Rock do as well as silver-haired Steve Martin in '01, or grandma Whoopi Goldberg in '02.

And among teenagers? Rock was no Crystal '04.

All of which may explain why, in his canned quote included in yesterday's announcement, Stewart had the good sense to say: "As a performer, I'm truly honored to be hosting the show. Although, as an avid watcher of the Oscars, I can't help but be a little disappointed with the choice. It appears to be another sad attempt to smoke out Billy Crystal."

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