Although my body was remaining somewhat on Central Time, getting up at 4am in Los Angeles yesterday was still a pretty unnatural sensation for me. It felt somewhat surreal as myself and a colleague, and a handful of other TCA critics, left our Pasadena hotel in the pre-dawn, shuttled along on empty L.A. freeways, headed toward our destination — The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, where a 5:30am press conference was to announce the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards, which air live on ABC Feb. 24.
There, the buzz of excitement made the early awakening worthwhile and promptly kept us fully alert. Journalists gathered in a downstairs lobby, having breakfast, waiting for the call to be ushered into the upstairs theater where the announcements would be made. When our TCA call came, we found ourselves seated three rows from the stage where Oscars host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone would be announcing some of the key nominees that morning. Giant statues of Oscar adorned the stage, which had the backdrop of a video screen with a countdown clock letting us know how close we were to the big moment. Looking around the theater, we could see many reporters from around the country and the world (the official Oscars press release said more than 400 international media representatives were there) jotting down notes, snapping photos, tweeting and setting up live shots.
Then, Seth MacFarlane came out, introduced Emma Stone, and the duo announced nominees in 12 major categories (not all; the complete list of nominees is here). Like these events always are, it was a quick affair, only a few minutes, with some levity interjected, almost serving as a microcosm of what possibly to expect from MacFarlane as Oscars host (or perhaps as a test to see what people respond to?). As might be expected from MacFarlane, there were a few quips guaranteed to offend at least a few people, including the Hitler joke heard (and tweeted about) around the world.
To some, yesterday’s Oscars nominations broadcast may have confirmed their worst fears about what MacFarlane would be like as an Oscars host. To others, it may have signaled a refreshing new era in Oscars hosting history. And to still others, it might simply represent a grasping attempt by the Oscars at a younger audience (for, while this year’s nine Best Picture nominees are high quality, recognizable titles, they are not necessarily titles that would overwhelmingly draw in younger viewers for an Oscars telecast).
After the nominees were announced, the TCA reporters were brought back to the downstairs area, which had now cleared out considerably, and the handful of us who had gotten up at the crack of dawn eventually met with Seth MacFarlane, Academy president Hawk Koch, and Oscars producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, to further discuss some of those topics. Along with MacFarlane making his first appearance as Oscars host, Zadan and Meron — long-time and acclaimed movie, TV and theater producers — are also first-timers when it comes to working on the Oscars. Here is some of what we talked about.
On whether the announcement of the Oscars nominations now makes this all seem more real for MacFarlane –
Seth MacFarlane: It allows us to get more specific, obviously, because we were working with the knowledge of what movies were out there and what movies were likely to get nominated, but we had no list of actual nominees. And today, we now have a list. We have some targets for our jokes, and we can really start digging into it.
MacFarlane on his first reaction on being named Oscars host –
MacFarlane: I said, “Where’s Ashton?” Then I realized, “Oh, that’s a really dated reference.” In all honesty, I was shocked, surprised, I did not see it coming, and was thrilled that I would even be considered. It sounded like the most fun that any one person could have sober.
Producers’ thought process on choosing MacFarlane as host:
Neil Meron: People actually thought that it was a result of Saturday Night Live that we came up with the idea, that we saw him on Saturday Night Live. But we were well aware of Seth and what he could do way prior to that. So when we were first offered the job by Hawk, and thinking about what we could do to make our stamp on the show, Seth provides everything that we were looking for in terms of a host. He is relevant to an audience today, he’s funny, he has great charm, he embodies kind of a post-millennium host in that tradition of Johnny Carson and Bob Hope and Billy Crystal. He is like the next step in terms of making the show current. And that was one of the goals we had in mind, is to make this show current.
Whether MacFarlane will look at what other Oscars hosts have done –
MacFarlane: Before I get too deep into this I do intend to call Billy Crystal and pick his brain and seek his wisdom. And Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, all the big ones. [laughs]
When was the last time you read a post-Oscar review when somebody in the entertainment press said, “What a great host.” The last one I can remember was probably Billy Crystal. But I think a lot of them have been great, but you go into it knowing that no matter — even if you put on the greatest show in the world, you’re probably going to be lambasted in the press, so you might as well enjoy yourself and 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 really worried about that, I’m just worrying about making it as funny as it can be and as fun as it can be.
Is MacFarlane going to sing at the Oscars? –
MacFarlane: We’re still working on all that. We’re working on our opening sequence, we’re still shaping the show. There’s, of course, an orchestra at the Oscars. Music is always a part of the ceremony. I would hate to be the first guy to buck that tradition. So it remains to be seen exactly what form it will take, but it wouldn’t be the Oscars without music.
Is MacFarlane worried about going too far with any jokes, or getting overwhelming Twitter reaction, like with the Hitler joke at the Oscars nominations?
MacFarlane: How bad is it? [hadn't seen Twitter reaction at time] More pro than con?
There’s always that one joke that stirs up the pot a little bit. We’ve been through it on Family Guy. You can never predict which one it is. [The Hitler joke is] the type of reference you would have seen Monty Python joke about on their TV show 40 years ago. So I think it’s context. You can break down any joke in the context. I’m just stating a fact. I think it strikes everyone differently. You know, in some ways, I’m sure there will be a few things at the Oscars that will generate a little bit of a buzz in that regard. Hopefully not too excessive. But our goal is to mix it up a little bit.
MacFarlane on memories of past Oscars ceremonies –
MacFarlane: I haven’t seen them all, there are a few that I’ve missed. My mother was a huge fan of the Oscars, and never missed it. I’ve said this before — for some reason, the one Oscar image from the past that sticks out in my mind more vividly than anything else is Juliette Lewis’ cornrows [1991, pictured]. I don’t know why that is, but that’s just the one that’s glued to my brain. She made an impression, damn it. I’ve been a fan like anyone else. It’s hard to find somebody who’s not at least a casual fan of the Oscars, and I could not be more excited to not only be doing it, but doing it with this group.
Seth MacFarlane hosts the 85th Academy Awards Feb. 24 live on ABC.
Seth MacFarlane photo: Bob D’Amico/ABC