Odds are pretty good that--no matter who takes home Oscar gold this year--the 78th Annual Academy Awards telecast will suffer a ratings dip. For starters, it's part of an overall trend. Oscar ratings have gone down steadily since runaway smash Titanic swept through the categories at the 1997 kudocast. Some blame it on the length of the show. Some blame it on the caliber of films chosen. (Almost as many people saw last year's Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby as saw all five Best Picture nominees this year.) But the bottom line is this: For true film fans, there is no night more exciting than Oscar night.
Celeb watchers can tune in early to catch the red carpet arrivals. Who's gonna show up early, who's gonna cruise in late and--most importantly--who's gonna flash the most nipple? Joan and Melissa Rivers--exiled from their longtime post at E!--will be annoying celebrities in a tiny corner of your TV set over on the TV Guide Channel. ABC, meanwhile, is bumping up its official preshow coverage from half an hour to a full hour. This gives viewers plenty more time to gawk at famous people. Unfortunately, ABC has chosen Billy Bush from “Access Hollywood” and Vanessa Manillo from “Entertainment Tonight” as the hosts of “Oscar Countdown 2006,” ensuring only the most vapid of coverage.
But, in a surprising burst of wisdom that seems almost unfitting, Oscar's producers have chosen Comedy Central's “The Daily Show” anchor Jon Stewart as the host for the evening. Stewart is one of the funniest men on the planet, and I have no doubt he and his writers will have a grand old time lampooning the pretensions of Hollywood.
After years of such “safe,” middle-of-the-road performers as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin, it's nice to see a host with a little edge. Of course, Stewart probably won't play all that well with the overseas audiences who've never heard of him. I expect this to be a one-year run for Stewart, so enjoy it while you can.
Presenters run the gamut of celebrity--from Jessica Alba on the front end of the alphabet to Owen Wilson on the tail end. Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Foxx and Steve Carrell are buried somewhere in the middle.
Performance-wise, Dolly Parton will be on hand singing her Oscar-nominated song from TransAmerica. Kathleen “Bird” York will do her song “In the Deep” from Crash, while Three 6 Mafia will perform their rap tune from “Hustle & Flow.” While there are only three songs nominated this year, mercifully none will be sung by Beyonce (who, for reasons unknown, performed three songs on last year's telecast). Plus, one of the nominated songs is titled “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Expect a cutaway to Jack Nicholson during that number.