By Rick Bentley
LOS ANGELES — The average age of viewers for the annual Academy Awards telecast skews older.
There’s nothing much the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences can do when it comes to the films and actors nominated. It’s just the nature of the awards show that a production like “Lincoln,” a big favorite among older moviegoers, gets more nominations than, say, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a hit with younger film fans.
The only place the Academy can inject some youthful energy is through the show’s master of ceremonies. That’s why James Franco, Anne Hathaway, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock have handled hosting duties seven of the last eight years.
Now, it’s up to Seth MacFarlane — best known for his unique sense of humor and the creative force and voice talent behind such animated TV programs as “Family Guy” and “American Dad” — to lure a younger audience to the telecast Sunday on ABC.
“Seth provides everything that we were looking for in terms of the host because he is relevant to an audience today and he’s funny, charismatic,” said Neil Meron, executive producer of this year’s Oscar telecast along with Craig Zadan. “He has great charm. He embodies, kind of, a post-Millennium host in that tradition of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Billy Crystal. He is the next step in terms of making the show current. And that was one of the goals that we had in mind, is to make this show current.”
Zadan added that the key was to make sure this Oscar show would not be “run of the mill.”
That’s exactly what Academy president Hawk Koch wants — something different.
“It’s about getting the whole audience, because there are an awful lot of other award shows all over the place but there’s only one Oscars. We want to keep it that way. We want the Oscar to feel like it’s the best of the best,” Koch said. “With our producers and Seth, I think it’s going to go a long way to everybody saying, ‘I can’t wait for next year’s Oscars and next year’s Oscars.’”
To do that, the executive producers want to give the awards ceremony new energy — but without MacFarlane lapsing into extreme off-color comedy. Any concerns the producers had went away when they met with MacFarlane to discuss the job.
MacFarlane told them that he respected the Academy, the nominees and the film business. He would be irreverent — and push the boundaries of good taste — but would not say anything that crossed the line.
So how does a guy who makes a living out of crossing lines maintain his brand of humor while not making Oscar blush?
He’ll host the show the same way he works on his TV shows or movies. To him, both “Family Guy” and “Ted” show an attempt to walk a line between classic and edgy.
“Classic in tone and edgy in content. I think that’s the line that we’re trying to walk here. We want it to feel like an old-style Oscars. But content-wise, we want it to also feel relevant. We want it to feel entertaining and feel like it’s of today,” MacFarlane said.
MacFarlane has such a respect for the Oscars that he planned to call one of the Awards ceremonies most beloved hosts, Billy Crystal, for tips.
Crystal is one of the few Oscar hosts applauded for his work. There have been more times where hosts have been critically panned, such as David Letterman’s fiasco at the “67th Academy Awards” (“Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah”).
That doesn’t worry MacFarlane.
“You go into it knowing that no matter what, even if you put on the greatest show in the world, you’re probably going to be lambasted in the press,” he said. “So you might as well enjoy yourself, do the best you can knowing that the outcome is going to be the same. It’s a ruthless bit of scrutiny that you’re under, so I’m not going to think about that. I’m just worrying about making it as funny as it can be and as fun as it can be.”