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Oscar Hangover

THIS WAS THE MOST INCOHERENT, inchoate and just plain stinko Oscar telecast in recent memory. Nothing flowed; everything jarred, cut-ins and cut-outs lacked necessary segues. It was as if a bunch of tweakers had put the show together, then seized the control room and forced meth on everyone. Jon Stewart bombed. Tom Hanks had an expletive-filled snit when he was introduced to the music of Forrest Gump. George Clooney was laid on- and offstage all night. And still it all added up to a butt-ugly broadcast that even the biggest film buff had to gag through.

Those among the 42-member board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who made it to the Oscar-party circuit Sunday night amply demonstrated just how clueless they were about that broadcast. To them, it went great, Jon Stewart proved a terrific host, and the hours flew by. Unfortunately, they were sitting in the audience instead of watching on the tube. So it shocked them when Industryites with proven track records for pleasing audiences, like Jerry Bruckheimer and Joel Silver, approached them at Vanity Fair’s shindig and gave the thumbs-down. If the board needed more proof, the show’s ratings tanked 10 percent from last year’s, making it the second-least watched since 1987. (No. 1 was the Iraq War Academy Awards of 2003, like you had to be told that.)

So the time has come to stop the misery and end this hell on earth while there’s still time to prevent next year’s torture. Oscar’s got a hangover, and only a self-help five-step program’s gonna fix that.

1. No more uncomfortable opening monologue. Show Us Your Tits! It wasn’t Jon Stewart’s fault that he bombed. At least he himself admitted he was a poor choice to host the Oscars, given that his film experience amounted to little more than “the fourth male lead from Death to Smoochy.” (I was on the radio that morning with Australian Broadcasting Corp. and they said they’ve never heard of Jon Stewart and asked me to explain who he is. Great host choice for international audiences, right?) That filmed bit of shtick at the start of the telecast underscored how hard it is to get a decent host for this nightmare of a show. So it was inevitable that he’d bomb. And, yes, bomb he did. He looked nervous and edgy, his timing was way off, his standup ran in super slo-mo, and his jokes flat-lined. What’s more, he didn’t even try to make excuses for the movie industry; instead, he acknowledged, “Let’s face the fact that this has not been the best year for Hollywood.” Especially when they can’t get a better host than you, Jon-boy.

Even his signature sharp political humor was dulled. He slammed the Democrats twice, and told only one Cheney joke. (That got his biggest laugh.) He didn’t lay a glove on Bush, and what was up with that? That’s why we tuned in, to see Mr. Liberal get himself in trouble with the Red State Right. Only something massively unscripted, like AMPAS prez Sid Ganis wrestling Jon to the ground for offending the White House, was gonna save this milquetoast monologue. Even Jon told the audience he’s a “loser.” Well put, at least for that night.

So don’t make the hosts do that monologue. The actors can’t do standup, and the comedians can’t act comfortable in front of Jack Nicholson and all that actress boobage. Speaking of breasts, why not just start the show with a well-edited comedy reel, then let Scarlett Johansson or Jessica Alba or any Us Weekly magazine ingénue with a great rack come onstage and welcome the Kodak Theater audience and TV viewers while oozing sex appeal? Enough with the troglodyte funny men, and Whoopi. Give the public some eye candy.

2. Don’t let one man, or one joke, hijack the entire broadcast. Jews were a running joke. Three 6 Mafia were a running joke. But anti-Semitism and racism don’t add up to humor. And then there was that incessant slobbering over George Clooney. Let’s face it, no career can withstand the excessive gushery that Clooney received during these Academy Awards. Hope you enjoyed those hours, George, because the inevitable backlash began that night.

I have two words for you: Kevin Costner.

Clooney, Shmooney. Clooney could have won Best Supporting Actor for simply gaining weight and spitting up spinal fluid for Syriana. That’s a time-honored Oscar tradition: I-sacrificed-myself-for-my-art. But he bagged it instead because this town wants to be him, earn his money, date his women, live his Lake Como palazzo life. And, yes, they gave Golden Boy to him because they see him as the movie biz’s golden boy. Just one problem: The only pictures he’s starred in that have been successful at the box office were ensemble pieces (Ocean’s Eleven and its sequel, Ocean’s Twelve). The bucks total from his Oscar films barely equals what he spends on tooth floss. Good Night, and Good Luck was historically inaccurate. And he’s not aging gracefully, to put it mildly. (He hasn’t lost that baby weight yet.) He doesn’t sell movie tickets, he sells magazine covers. Keep this up, and the next Academy Award winner will be Brangelina.

Shameful, also, that Clooney didn’t have the guts to go for broke during his acceptance speech: “I’m proud to be part of this Academy. I’m proud to be part of this community. I’m proud to be ‘out of touch.’?” Why didn’t you just say it, George? “I’m proud to be a liberal activist actor even when conservatives hate me for it”?

This was your chance to speak out. Instead, you copped out.

3. Create a mosh pit of fanatics in front of the stage like they do at the MTV Movie Awards. Would it have killed the Academy to nominate something popular like King Kong, or the fourth Harry Potter or Revenge of the Sith or even Narnia? It’s like the Industry types in this town have a death wish. Everyone was too busy speculating about the United Talent–Endeavor agency rumor, or the likelihood of a Mike Ovitz, Brad Grey or Bert Fields indictment in the Pellicano wiretap scandal, to focus on why civilians hadn’t bothered to see any of the nominated movies. The best overheard line at Barry Diller’s Oscar party on Saturday kinda summed it up: “This is the entire television audience for the Academy Awards on Sunday night.” (There were 500 people in attendance.)

So at least bring in real folk who get excited by seeing movies and hobnobbing with actors and experiencing an Academy Award broadcast live and in person. Empty the fan bleachers right before the broadcast. The mogul truth is that, as a species, Industry types hate the Oscars. They loathe the entire weekend. They bitch and moan about having to wear a tie or a tux. But, most of all, they can’t stand pretending that they actually know all the people who are coming over to shake their hands, or that they are pleased when a rival studio wins an Oscar. And they get flop sweat at the prospect of Sumner, Rupert, Dick, Jeffrey, Bob or Sir Howard barking: “What the hell happened? Why didn’t we win more awards? You still expect a bonus this year?”

That’s why, increasingly every year, the Oscars sound like the final moments of Saigon, with helicopters whirring in the air. Just as during the Vietnam War when everybody at the U.S. Embassy waited for “White Christmas” to play on the radio as the signal to haul their asses out of Saigon, the movie business is waiting to disassemble post-telecast. Even Jon Stewart was joking about how lousy the movie biz is right now.

Quick, up to the roof of Kodak Theater. We’ve got choppers to take you out to Malibu.

4. Get rid of all the non-talent awards and sell that show to the Discovery Channel. This is why cable TV exists, to take the overflow. Before anyone firebombs AMPAS, just remember: The Academy already segregates the Oscars by holding the presentation of the scientific and technical Academy Awards in a different place, on a different night (this year, at The Beverly Hilton on February 18). So what’s the big deal about moving sound, costume, editing, CGI and all the rest of that eyes-glazing-over stuff to that show and freeing up valuable real estate during the real Oscar telecast? (Unless you liked seeing Ben Stiller overact in that dumb-ass green suit.)

And non-talent includes the awards for writers. They’re used to being treated like shit and not complaining about it (e.g., their Writers Guild) so they won’t bitch, trust me.

5. Pay Angelina Jolie to steal a husband and win an Oscar every year.

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