She'd like to thank the academy.

Ellen DeGeneres, who hosts a syndicated daytime talk show and has emceed other major award programs, takes center stage at the Kodak Theatre Sunday night to host the Academy Awards for the first time.

"I was hoping the last few years they'd ask me," said DeGeneres, 49, whose postSept. 11 Emmy appearance drew critical praise for her gentle blend of wit and emotion. "This is something I wanted as soon as I started getting the hosting bug."

Having hosted the Emmys and Grammys, "it was the natural progression to want to do the Oscars," DeGeneres said. "If you're going to go live and challenge yourself, the Oscars are the biggest chance."

During a break from taping her daily show -- "We've been banking shows, so I have the week of [the Oscars] off" -- DeGeneres spoke with TV Week about her pre-show prep.

How are you getting ready for the Oscars?

I'm trying to relax a little more. . . . I'm working hard to make [my performance] strong and make sure it stays that way all night. I'll be trying to pop in and do little things about what's going on. I want it to be fun and for everyone to have a good time. That's my job as a host. I have to be aware that I am not just playing to the room, but to everyone watching all over the world.

Have you seen all of the films nominated for best picture?

Yes; I'm all caught up. I think it's very tight. Obviously the one film everyone thought would be nominated was "Dreamgirls," which was a commercial success, but it didn't make it. A lot of the categories are also tight, especially for actor. There are some great films, and I don't even have a favorite.

Are you writing all of your own material for Oscar night?

I'm doing what I always do for awards shows -- working with my writers for the show. They'll submit something and I'll narrow it, or I'll say, "Let's try to expand on this." About a month and a half ago, I wrote the entire monologue and I thought it was done and set. Then I threw it out the next day. Every time it's great, the closer we get, you say there's no need in settling. So we'll be writing that night. That is the fun of going live, the challenge of what we come back with when something spontaneous happens. We'll be writing right up till showtime.

What about your outfit for that night?

I have lots to choose from. A lot of designers are making me beautiful suits, but my fear is that I am going to offend someone by not wearing theirs. I could change 15 times and have something new every time.

Do you have a favorite past Oscar host?

Hosting is an important job and everybody has a different take on it. I have to go back to [Johnny] Carson. I think he was an amazing presence. He was calm, and you had faith that everything was going to be fine. I don't want to copy anyone, but I would like to have that "you're in good hands" feeling.

Hosting requires so much energy and stamina. What are you doing physically to prepare?

I've been working out, lots of clean food, water, green tea, massages. I'm preparing mentally and physically for this. I have to be on my toes and be able to think fast if something happens.

Your mom will be in the audience, of course.

Yes, my mom and Portia [de Rossi, DeGeneres's partner] will be there. Mom and Portia and Clint Eastwood will be the only ones listening to me; everyone else will be going over what they're going to say if they win.

A lot of people in entertainment want to win an Oscar, but you're happy hosting the awarding of Oscars?

I wouldn't mind winning an Oscar, but I have always said I like making people feel good and there's something about putting a smile on people's faces. It is the ultimate job to do that with that [Oscar] audience and with the world watching.

Red Carpet Redux Can't get enough Oscar? Here's more to watch:

· TCM's month-long block of Oscar-winning flicks wraps up with a slate of four-star flims.

· TV Guide channel kicks off red-carpet coverage at 3 p.m., and Joan and Melissa Rivers chat up the stars starting at 6 p.m.

· At 7 p.m. on ABC, a Barbara Walters special includes taped interviews with host Ellen DeGeneres and several major nominees.

· ABC joins the red-carpet action live at 8 p.m. with "Road to the Oscars" as the later arrivals flaunt their fashions and bling.

More coverage

Online: See our Oscars section at washingtonpost.com/movies

In Sunday Source: Last-minute trivia that will impress even the most exacting Oscar expert.

In Sunday Arts: More on Oscar, including a full ballot of nominees.