Improving Oscar

The Academy bets on Seth MacFarlane to be their pied piper of youthful viewers

No sooner than the ball dropped in Times Square and Ryan Seacrest stepped out of his lifts and powered down in his cryogenic chamber, all entertainment talk turned to the Academy Awards. What will people wear? What ill-advised stunt will the Academy pull this year to spice things up? (A barbershop quartet made up of former Best Supporting Actors? Those suits from Ernst & Young bursting into a number from Les Miz?) Most importantly, will anyone watch?

Last year I devoted a whole column to why the Oscars have become almost unwatchable by today’s ADHD, DVR-fast-forwarding standards. Shockingly the Academy doesn’t seem to have taken any of my advice (make it shorter, ditch the boring categories, smack some duct tape on Joan Rivers and the other pop-culture pundits until the morning after). Instead, it’s courting the coveted (and unrequited) youth audience by opting for a bit of host stunt casting. Seth MacFarlane, the crude creative force behind Fox’s Family Guy, will helm the February 24 telecast.

MacFarlane will be the ultimate litmus test for the effectiveness of a host cherry-picked to appeal to the under-30 set (let’s all just pretend the James Franco-Anne Hathaway debacle of 2011 never happened). What’s especially risky about his selection is that although his sense of humor has helped to shape an entire generation’s pop-culture sensibility, MacFarlane’s is not a famous face. His celebrity is largely behind-the-scenes, and while he has some performing experience (he served as Comedy Central’s roast master for David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen, and even self-released an album of himself crooning show tunes in 2011), he’s not of the caliber of comedian the Oscars generally tap to host such an important event (ahem, Franco, Hathaway—have we learned NOTHING?)

I get it, though. Barring a big, fanboy-courting action movie like The Dark Knight Rises getting nominated for Best Picture (unlikely), the Oscars—now in their 85th year—can’t hope to rope in a hip young crowd based on nominees alone. This year’s reveal promised to be one of the least suspenseful in recent memory, thanks to the presence of a few seemingly unbeatable frontrunners (method man Daniel Day-Lewis playing one of history’s most beloved and tragic American presidents? Ben Affleck proving his directing chops with a period piece about the Iran hostage crisis? I mean, come on. Everyone else can just go home.)

Look for Lincoln, Les Misérables, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, The Sessions, Life of Pi and Zero Dark Thirty to dominate major categories. Also look for MacFarlane to work in a joke about how his first full-length feature, Ted, about a crass-talking teddy bear who loves anal-sex jokes, failed to garner a nomination.

Again, I know I sound like a broken record (that’s an old-school mp3 stuck on iTunes repeat, for you whippersnappers out there) if you ask me, kids would be more likely to tune in if the ceremony was chopped to an hour, live-streamed, and included a halftime show starring those eunuchs from One Direction doing the Gangnam Style horse dance. Also, MacFarlane could make his entrance by rising out of a flaming garbage can. But what do I know?

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