Yes, yes, awards season is over. Theoretically, then, we won’t have the Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, SAG Awards and Tonys, etc., to kick around again for a long time.
So why are people still Seth-bashing and showing their wounds from host wisecracks?
Just two days ago, Tina Fey – half of the hosting team with pal Amy Poehler that made the Golden Globes as watchable as they’ve ever been – was asked if she and her buddy would be willing to take on the Oscars next time around. Her answer, with its adamance, translated into “No way, Jose.” (She was open to press interrogatories because she attended the preview of her witty upcoming film “Admission.”)
In the meantime, Taylor Swift has done some public bleeding in Vanity Fair over Fey and Poehler’s pretty fair Golden Globes gag about her needing to stay away from Michael J. Fox’s young son. In doing so, Swift invoked a commonly expressed wish that there is a special place in hell awaiting women who don’t support other women.
To which Fey and Poehler both, somewhat incredibly, answered her, expressing their surprise that she’d be so wounded. Just a joke, said Tina, who confided that she expected much more pushback from her juiciest Globe target, James Cameron. Sure, said Poehler, she’s probably going to hell, but it won’t be because of Taylor Swift’s wounded feelings. It’ll be a tax thing.
The uncommonly long second life for this year’s awards season fallout is due to three things, I think:
1) The widespread usage of the word “debacle” after Seth MacFarlane’s name throughout the civilized world since his Oscar hosting gig.
2) The near-universal acclaim for Fey and Poehler’s turn as hosts of the Golden Globes.
3) The sneaking – and growing – suspicion that the Oscars are broken and unfixable and, if anything, likely to get worse over time.
I’ve sadly come around to (3). But then maybe I’m too pessimistic. Let’s just say, then, that the Oscars are terribly, horribly mixed up, and they desperately need our help. It ought to be the responsibility of every good American to try to come up with ideas to make the show acceptable again.
The grim and perhaps even hopeless news is that after Seth MacFarlane’s wretched hosting turn – bad boob song and all – ratings were up from last year, particularly in the “all-important 18 to 49 demo, especially young males,” as they like to put it in the precincts where American culture is being trashed with enthusiasm by demographic obsession every hour.
And that, of course, is what the Oscar folks were hoping for.
To which all manner of venerable Hollywoodians have expressed genteel and not-so-genteel disgust – Jane Fonda and Jamie Lee Curtis prominently.
My personal feeling about MacFarlane is that what he did would have been interesting if he’d only been funny. I’m almost always up for a little creative experimentation with national rituals infected with creeping tedium.
The single difference between MacFarlane’s Oscar gig and the Amy and Tina Show is that one was mostly a dreadful, self-confident botch and the other was a sly, unqualified and extremely funny smash.
So who, you might well ask, says that an Oscar host has to be funny in the first place? A good basic question, actually.
Tradition does. It goes back to Bob Hope. And then Johnny Carson. And, by then, the tradition was set in stone (with instructive side trips to the likes of Jerry Lewis, who ended one Oscar show with a marathon audience singalong iteration of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” that was a cross between second grade and a tantric ritual.)
Billy Crystal – with the help of perennial Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch – deepened what was already set in stone. You gotta be funny at the Oscars, is the law. You gotta zing some celebs. It’s gotta sting too, at least a little. Ya know?
Well, OK. So if we raise our hands in the back of class and ask, “Who says so?” we’ll all be laughed out of the room. Why not have the show about – you know – movies? (They tried it one year. Director William Friedkin was the producer. It was a great wildly cinematic Oscar show. The ratings tanked.)
What we have now is an awards season where the awards, good or bad, have become incidental. The Oscars are a demographic catastrophe in which the nearly unwatchable Red Carpet prelude is all about the immortal question “Who are you wearing?” And the show itself is all about answering the question, “How do we give all these awards to overdressed rich people and still attract an audience of beer-swilling guys between 18 to 49 so we can charge a fortune for the ads?”
It’s a demographic battleground meant to be of maximum advertising utility with everyone’s ostensible favorite subject movies now turned into an incidental commodity at best.
If even the Grammys seemed better this year, it’s because they were actually about the recording industry (not music; heaven forbid) and host LL Cool J was an industrial enthusiast, not an incidental freelance wiseacre.
If the Golden Globes were better than the Oscars, it’s because the hostesses were the best around and the show itself simply gave out awards and left out all other forms of gratuitous “show business.” Fewer paychecks, perhaps, but a leaner, cleaner much better TV show.
Except, of course, that the Oscar ratings didn’t see it that way. The uptick in numbers – especially demographic ones – merely confirmed to the powers that be that they’re on the right track.
Where they will undoubtedly stay until no one actually watches the show at all “in real time” but rather zooms through their DVR version of it to get to the good stuff.
Just in case you still have hope, you might want to join me in listing some plausible hosts for the demographic Frankenstein monster they’ve created. Here’s my list: Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Ricky Gervais, Tom Hanks (yes, Tom Hanks), Oprah Winfrey and, would you believe, Jay Leno.
No, I’m not kidding about that last. Given how far down Seth MacFarlane sank the show into puerile mulch, Leno’s absolute mastery of comic mediocrity and toothless celebrity joshery now looks to me like a perfect way to get from one end of the show to the other briskly with no painful production numbers and enough instantly forgettable snap to offset the occasional award of a prize to some truly great figure who might actually deserve one.
What a sad period this has turned out to be for lovers of vintage sitcoms. Not only did Bonnie Franklin, of “One Day at a Time” die of cancer at the age of 69, but much-beloved 73-year-old Valerie Harper of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda” revealed in People magazine that she is dying of inoperable brain cancer and has only months to live.
Somewhat incredibly – to me, anyway – they announced on “Access Hollywood” that she will be on the show this coming Tuesday to talk about it.
I find it so unimaginable under the circumstances that I have no idea what I think about it all. Perhaps that’s best.
It is revealing, though, how much less lovable people find current sitcom stars than the ones America fell for more than 35 years ago.