What’s in an Oscar host?

The academy has repeatedly tried to inject new life into the award show through its hosts, with lackluster results.

Seth MacFarlane 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Fred Prouser)
Seth MacFarlane 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Fred Prouser)
During his months of preparation before the Academy Awards, Seth MacFarlane reached out to pervious Oscar hosts for advice. Hugh Jackman, who hosted in 2008, reportedly told him that he was too “boring” as a host and that MacFarlane should “be mean.”
Of course, as the creator of Family Guy, The Cleveland Show and American Dad cartoons, cracking cutting and scathing jokes at celebrities’ expense is what MacFarlane does best. Nobody is spared on those wildly popular programs and, on Sunday, McFarlane will have the opportunity to mock, belittle and lampoon those stars to their faces. But will he actually do that? Doubtful.
The need to be contemporary while upholding the tradition of Hollywood is something the telecast has struggled with over the years.
In what was probably one of the most embarrassing Oscar hosting gigs in recent history, the producers attempted to appeal to the youth demographic and called on actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011. Hathaway’s over-the-top enthusiasm seemed almost maniacal at times and overshadowed Franco, who looked bored and uninterested.
The producers also attempted to bring some edge to the broadcast.
In 2005, the producers hired Chris Rock for his brutally honest brand of humor. On that count, Rock delivered. He spent virtually his entire monologue blasting President George W. Bush for the war in Iraq, lamenting the quality of movies today and then launched into an unofficial roast of Jude Law (who stared in six movies that year) and exclaimed, “Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I have seen in the last four years? He’s in everything!” Rock was never invited back.
Perhaps in some ways, Rock – despite his talent and success in comedy – serves as a cautionary tale for comedians who are tempted to cross the line between a good-natured barb and harsh one.
Luckily, MacFarlane is aware that he will be in front of a sensitive audience who could turn on him in a heartbeat and that he is beholden to the strict standard and practices associated with live television. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Mac- Farlane said hosting the show is “about finding a balance between doing what I do, but acknowledging that this is the Academy Awards and not a Donald Trump roast. It’s walking the line between old-fashioned showmanship and allowing it to be contemporary with a little bit of bite.”
This is where MacFarlane’s penchant for singing and dancing and his affinity for old Hollywood musicals could be his saving grace.
Coming off the heels of his Grammy nominated album of old swing standards, Music is Better Than Words, it is likely that MacFarlane will emulate the most successful of recent Oscar hosts – Billy Crystal – and charm the crowd with song.
When speaking about his experience as an nine-time Oscar host, Crystal told Katie Couric, “You really need some muscle to be on that stage in front of the world, because the world is a tough room.”
Hopefully, then, MacFarlane will have the sense to bring a pair of boxing gloves in addition to his dancing shoes when he hosts the show on Sunday night.