Big Questions About the New Oscars Format — Is It Such a Terrible Idea?

On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that eight categories would not be presented on the live broadcast of this year’s 94th Oscars ceremony. The social media and industry reaction was swift and brutal from industry members and awards watchers, but some of the instant backlash was due to a lack of understanding of the process and how it will roll out.

Are the categories being removed from the Oscars ceremony?

No. The 94th ceremony will begin one hour earlier for in-person attendees, with the full presentation of nominees, winners and speeches from the eight selected categories of documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live action short and sound. Clips from that first hour will then be integrated into the live televised broadcast for viewers at home that begins at 5:00 p.m. PT. Sources close to the Academy say the viewers at home won’t be able to distinguish between the live feed and the edited package that will likely be used as bumpers and other forms of transitions between segments and hosts. This is similar to what the Tony Awards and other televised awards ceremonies have been doing to recognize technical achievements and various other artisans.

The Grammy Awards, which honor 86 categories across multiple genres, can’t air them all during their telecast. Last year, the Music Academy integrated 22 music performances into the 63rd annual ceremony, with only 10 honorees awarded during the main show. The Emmys hold two Creative Arts ceremonies that don’t air during its primetime event.

But won’t the winners leak before the telecast begins?

Bingo! And there’s the ultimate problem. How can the Academy prevent the winners of those eight categories from leaking out the minute that they’re announced? Before the telecast begins, audiences at home that are following Twitter will know the results, which could create fewer surprises or less incentive to watch for viewers at home.

In many cases, the winners of the non-televised categories will be the bigger, more populist films. Of the categories selected, films heavily favored to win include Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up,” Warner Bros’ “Dune,” and Walt Disney Pictures’ “Encanto” and “Cruella.” While they will still be seen and integrated into the ceremony, those are the films that general audiences are sure to know. You don’t want to diminish the potential excitement for their wins.

No matter what changes are implemented, it’s hard to turn down a moment in which editor Joe Walker stands on stage a little longer or Germaine Franco could relish a moment in which she becomes the first Latina, and woman of color, to win original score. One line from David Rubin’s letter to Academy members today should also serve as encouragement: “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.”

Too many X-factors could go wrong that could diminish a life-altering moment of achievement. ABC and the Oscars’ shared focus on staying within the parameters of an arbitrary three-hour telecast has always been perplexing. The length of the show is irrelevant if you ensure viewers are having a good time. People are not tuning out because you’ve decided to present best sound, nor are they going to run to tune in because you may or may not reward “Cinderella” with Camila Cabello, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” with Tom Holland or “Army of the Dead” from Zack Snyder with a “Fan Favorite” prize. If a person loves movies and knows the Oscars do as well, they will watch.

Is this really necessary?

Depends on who you ask.

Artisans are already criminally ignored and undervalued in our industry. The Golden Globes hardly recognize any except for composers. The Critics Choice are presenting them on title cards into a commercial break. We can’t even get the SAG Awards to hand out two stunt categories on the telecast; instead, it happens during a red carpet in-between fashion segments.

While the three shorts categories herald the birth of new and diverse filmmakers, those could find a welcoming home during the Governors Awards or as an ongoing spot in this new proposed format. As it stands today, the general audience likely sees the short categories as either bathroom breaks or the deciding factor on whether or not you win your Oscar pool. They should be much more than that, but they’re not (at the moment).

The Academy should be focusing on simpler changes that could lead to wins for all parties involved — for example, why not live stream the ceremony on Hulu or Disney Plus?

If this doesn’t work, the Academy is willing to continue to try new, inventive ways to bring excitement to the celebration of cinema.

This year’s telecast will be hosted by Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes, and will be produced by Will Packer. The ceremony is set for March 27.

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