How to Improve the Oscars… Or at Least Shorten the Telecast

Believe it or not, the annual Academy telecast doesn't have to be a slog. Here are some ways to speed it up and still get the job done.

Button down the hatches! Warm up the TV! Stock up on the NoDoz and insert the catheter! This year’s annual presentation of the Academy Awards is only (believe it or not!) a few weeks away and that means that this coming Sunday night is pretty much already shot to hell. In ways of predictions, let me just go out on a limb and state that the show is going to be long and full of mind-numbing stretches of unrelenting boredom.

But such is the plight of all awards shows. Despite over 60 some years of on-air practice there still aren’t too many ways to reinvent this wheel. We must face facts: the sheer act of opening an envelope on television is not that exciting or telegenic, therefore, it’s not surprising that these affairs often seem like a slog.

Still, there are a few ways that we (and by “we” I mean “the Academy”) could speed up the proceedings or at least not make it seem so freakin’ endless. So I offer these modest proposals.

Assume that the audience knows what you are talking about: A lot of airtime is eaten up and a lot of words wasted each year as the producers of the broadcast just assume we have to be told what a cinematographer does, what a make-up artist does, and what a documentary is. To add insult to injury, often we get saddled with lame and awkward explanations of all these items read banally from the Teleprompter by the likes of James Franco or Mila Kunis. Surely after over 100 years of moviemaking and 80 some years of Oscars being awarded, most people have a pretty good idea already, don’t they? Besides, in this day of Google and Wikipedia, anyone who doesn’t know what sound editors do could surely go and look it up quite easily so that the rest of us (and James and Mila) could just get on with the show.

Present some trophies before you sign on the air: Almost all other awards shows already do this. The Grammys present dozens of categories before the show hits the air live, as does the Emmys. The Oscars, in contrast, have always steadfastly refused to follow suit assumedly so as not to suggest that some awards in some categories are more important than others. But the Oscars are being a little hypocritical here. They already present their technical awards at a separate ceremony held days, sometimes weeks, before the “official” Oscar awards. Moreover, in recent years, the Oscars haven’t even been airing their honorary award winners. In regard to the latter, this new move is the utmost in Academy mixed messages, as if to say: Sure, we value your life’s work and contributions to cinema (Lauren Bacall, James Earl Jones) but, you know, not enough to actually devote any of the show to it. This is a sad turn of events.

I would also suggest, so as not to offend the same profession or work group year after year, that AMPAS hold an annual lottery where four or five categories (not including Best Picture, Director or any of the acting categories) are selected randomly and those get presented that year before the show officially starts. That way, the actual show might actually end before the Good Morning America show starts the next morning.

In the end, Oscar night is the one night of the year when all the world — or so it seems — is focused on Hollywood and the movies, shouldn’t they cease that opportunity to say something about the world and cinema other than just another variation on “I’d like to thank the Academy” and “Go to bed, kids!”

Forget the production numbers… You think they would have learned something after that Snow White/Rob Lowe debacle of 1989. And let’s not forget a few years ago when they actually dressed a variety of male dancers up in solid gold, genital-squashing form-fitting body suits to look like giant real-life Oscars. I mean, where do you go after that?

The Oscars often want to be the Tonys who do frequently stop the show with some of their live musical numbers, but the difference that is Tony selections are taken from successfully running Broadway musicals that have been workshopped, refined and rehearsed for months (if not years) before they hit the telecast. In contrast, Oscar song and dance extravaganzas usually just leap from the mind of Debbie Allen and despite her talent and the energy of her dancers, they inevitably fall flat.

Few things are as compelling as just a singer and a song alone on the stage. Legendary TV moments have been made with Jennifer Hudson alone and singing “I Will Always Love You” on a televised Whitney tribute a few years ago and Michael Jackson performing alone on the Motown Anniversary special in 1983. What was the last full-scale production number that anyone recalls actually enjoying… without irony?

“Cluster” awards of similar nature together, presented by the same presenters: In recent years, Oscar has been doing this, attempting to speed up the proceedings by having the same duo of presenters present at least two awards during their time on stage (for example, grouping the long form animation award with the short-form animation award). Still, more could be done along these lines to streamline the actual awards handing-out process.

But this grouping of presentations presents with it a catch-22 — while it might quicken the show, it would also mean fewer presenters on stage and, therefore, less star power for the telecast. And seeing the stars is why most people tune in for in the first place. Still, in the interest of brevity, create batches so we can get a little faster to Best Actress.

Create a shorter entrance: This one seems like a no-brainer but make sure, when the plans for that year’s stage set are drawn up, to make it as short of a walk as possible from the side entrance or the back of center stage to the podium. One of the longest Emmy telecasts in history some years back was largely due to that year’s grand set that featured giant dual staircases which took even the youngest and most spry of presenters (little lone actresses in a long skirts and high heels) forever to come down. When each made their entrance after their introduction their strut to the microphone forced the onsite orchestra to plan endlessly and viewers to have their patience tested.

Some award producers (and, no doubt, actresses) like that long entrance as it does show off many of the spectacular designer gowns many of the female presenters have on but considering that the awards telecast comes on only after an already lengthy, all-afternoon red carpet pre-show (where considerable vamping has already taken place) and everyone’s look is going to be dissected the next morning via USA Today, IMDB and Joan Rivers, we really shouldn’t have any problem getting our full fashion fix.

You’ve got a giant screen on stage, use it: I don’t quite know when or why we decided that we needed to have someone introduce everything that happens on stage but, of late, it seems we can’t watch a film clip without having Denzel or Julia waxing about it beforehand. This draws out… everything. First that year’s host (poor bastard) has to introduce the actor who then has (long walk in) to introduce the montage or the musical segment. What? First, this sort of traffic control is what we have a host for. Second, the giant movie screen suspended center stage could do this job are more quickly and elegantly. Use of the show’s orchestra and a few carefully composed words (which hearken back to the title and dialogue cards of silent cinema) on that screen would direct audience attention and save us a lot of time in the process. Then just slap the words “In Memoriam” up there and roll the montage. We don’t need always need to have Liza Minnelli to point the way.