Academy Leadership Defends Reformatted Telecast Under Pressure of Three-Hour Runtime

Oscars leaders are trying to clarify and justify their decision to move eight categories from the live telecast and ensure that the nominees don’t feel sidelined.

“The board has discussed and agreed on the need to make changes to the broadcast, to allow for a celebratory show that also doesn’t ​run well over ​three hours,” says Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy, in an interview with Deadline. “That discussion has been ongoing but with more urgency for this year’s show. The decision to show eight categories in our first hour in the Dolby Theatre was the creative solution arrived at by our producers, our officers, and our awards committee. We chose a mix of categories which would then be folded into our live broadcast.”

The Academy announced on Feb. 22 the decision for several major categories to not be presented live on the air during this year’s telecast to deliver a more streamlined and television-friendly experience. The awards that will be handed out earlier in the ceremony are for documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live-action short and sound.

Various artisan guilds and key members of Hollywood have condemned the move, including Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro, whose film “Nightmare Alley” is nominated for best picture.

Hudson goes on to say: “We thought how do we preserve our values which are have all 23 awards on the show, but still allow for a three-hour show that the TV audience wants to tune into and other ways to celebrate movies within that show? And we looked at a lot of different ideas of taking categories, and doing like the Emmys, and presenting them on another night, or another way. But, we thought If we can be the most respectful to all of our nominees and winners, how do we do that? And so, this year, a critical year where we knew we had to make changes, we worked out this plan.”

David Rubin, president of AMPAS, talked about how artisans won’t be shortchanged, and awards enthusiasts will feel little difference, saying: “This is really essentially, what every nominee experiences. But, the creative team and the production team will highlight the moments that count the most, the potent emotional speeches, likely the reaction when a name is called. But there’s also a lot of that other time that’s involved in getting up onto that stage and finding that piece of paper and just looking to see if it’s time to speak. All of that stuff is part of it, but we’ll get to the most potent affecting emotional parts of the event.”

It’s still unknown if the full acceptance speeches themselves will be edited, and it’ll likely remain unknown until the day of the broadcast when the creative and production team makes decisions at the moment.

In the interview, the two leaders of AMPAS called this a “critical juncture in our Academy history,” referring to delivering a new award show experience as ratings continue to dive across the board.

Rubin goes on to say, “It was very important for us to have these nominees, have the full nominee experience, to be in the Dolby Theatre, on the Dolby set, looking out at those enrapt faces.”

This year, the Oscars’ in-person ceremony will begin at 4:00 p.m. PT and will be reflected on tickets for the event. The live telecast starts at 5:00 p.m. PT. Some presenters and nominees will be given staggered arrival times during the pre-show that runs from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. PT, and as guests finish their commitment to the pre-show, they’ll be escorted to their seats during the momentary breaks in the first hour. In addition, there will still be a red carpet show airing live on ABC at the same time as the categories are being pre-recorded and presented.

In other words, everything is moving up by one hour for in-person attendees sitting for a four-hour show, while the television audience still watches a three. There are currently no plans or discussions to live-stream the first hour for viewers. All winners from the first hour will be shared via the Academy’s social media platforms as they happen. However, the clips of their winning moments won’t be shared until the live telecast, along with the other categories.

With the abysmal ratings from last year’s telecast, which was devoid of film clips, musical performances, hosts and general enjoyment, the Academy, along with the show’s producer Will Packer, are bringing those elements back. At the upcoming ceremony, they have three hosts — Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes — and have introduced two consumer-friendly moments of recognition into the show for “Oscars Fan Favorite” and “Oscar Cheer Moment.”

The issue the Oscars are facing with bringing those needed elements back is executing it within a three-hour allotted timeframe. In terms of broadcast length, the ceremony has averaged about three hours and 30 minutes. The 2002 awards that saw Denzel Washington and Halle Berry become the first Black actors to win leading statuettes ran four hours and 23 minutes, which is the longest in history. Even last year’s telecast ran 19 minutes over without hosts, clips or music.

The three-hour agreement between ABC and the Academy has been in place for many years, but the consistent overages have typically been ignored; however, consumer audiences have often criticized the length of the show. With effects on affiliates, news networks and other obligations, this seems to be a mindful attempt to stay within those guidelines.

The Academy has said that all names of nominees will be said aloud, and every Oscar winner will give a speech while standing on stage and facing the audience. During the live broadcast, all winners, including those who received awards in the first hour, will go backstage in the order of their awards on the broadcast, where there will be a “thank-you cam” for acknowledging anyone they forgot to mention. All winners will visit the press room, in the order that their categories are presented on the show, to take questions from reporters and respective outlets.

For in-person attendees, there will be screens in the Dolby Theatre where the eight category winners and the entire audience will see the acceptance speeches as it plays live during the telecast.

There is a little-to-no chance we’ll see a reversal on the move this year; however, in the letter from David Rubin to all members, “Moving forward we will assess this change and will continue to look for additional ways to make our show more entertaining and more thrilling for all involved, inside the Dolby Theatre and watching from home.”

The Oscars will air on Mar. 27.

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