The Oscars went young with their choice for hosts two years ago, and it tanked. Last year, they went back to a tried-and-true comedian, but it was too safe and predictable. Will young and funny be the right mix?
This year's host, "Family Guy" and "Ted" mastermind Seth MacFarlane, gave us a preview of what to expect during the show when he announced the nominations Thursday morning. Along with co-presenter Emma Stone, MacFarlane pulled off an irreverent, joke-infused presentation peppered with adept jabs at the nominees.
Not just two figureheads reading from teleprompters, this is the first time the announcement itself has turned into entertainment fodder. Could this foreshadow the tone of the live show on February 24?
It was well-produced, names weren't flubbed during the announcement (a seeming first), and MacFarlane's signature brand of risky humor could very well bring in the younger audience the Oscars desperately needs. (Given their chemistry on Thursday, the Academy would be smart to also throw Stone up on stage on awards night.)
When Stone relayed nods for Best Actor in a Supporting Role -- Chrisoph Waltz ("Django Unchained"), Robert De Niro ("Silver Linings Playbook"), Alan Arkin ("Argo"), Philip Seymour Hoffman ("The Master") and Tommy Lee Jones ("Lincoln") -- she had a funny bit at the ready, pointing out that the actors are all prior Oscar winners.
MacFarlane and Stone cracked more jokes when his own nomination for Best Original Song was announced ("Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from "Ted"). When Best Actress in a Supporting Role was relayed, MacFarlane teased, "You five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein." And his most scathing moment was when he threw in a Hitler joke during the foreign films announcement.
[Related: See the full list of Oscar nominees]
The Academy has a lot to prove after Anne Hathaway and James Franco completely flopped at 2011's live telecast. But with their sights set so keenly on twenty-somethings, the show runs the risk of feeling un-special, un-Oscar-like, dare I say, a watered down copy of MTV's Video Music Awards.
What it has going for it is the fact that MacFarlane, 39, is, at least, a triple threat -- he writes, acts and sings -- with the seeming ability to tow the line to please both the young and old folks watching. (After Thursday's announcement, when asked if the live telecast will be as fun as the noms, MacFarlane kidded, "All the fun was today. There will be no more fun." He also revealed during an E! interview that he got no sleep the night before and drank some coffee to perk up for the early morning event.)
In an effort to dust off and update their identity, the Academy is yet again rolling the dice. But we've seen in the past that if the host doesn't appear to present an air of importance and respect on stage, the Oscar audience can quickly turn sour (remember David Letterman's one uncomfortable attempt at hosting). MacFarlane has the tricky task of poking fun at the Hollywood elite without alienating them -- or boring the millions watching at home.
It's a risky proposition. And if it doesn't work -- look for Steve Martin and/or Billy Crystal to host again next year.
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