Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Arts and Entertainment

What The Academy Awards Might Learn From 'Top Chef'

Preparations For The 93rd Annual Academy Awards show the red carpet and large letters spelling out OSCARS in front of L.A.'s Union Station
This year's Oscar red carpet didn't attract a crowd, and neither did the TV broadcast.
(Chris Pizzello
/
Getty Images)
LAist relies on your reader support, not paywalls.
Freely accessible local news is vital. Please power our reporters and help keep us independent with a donation today.

The headline from Forbes told us what we pretty much knew: “The Ratings For Awards Shows Are Tanking.” Indeed, the viewership for the last Emmys, Grammys and Tonys--ceremonies that were almost entirely virtual — and Sunday’s scaled-down Oscars — all have plummeted.

But the Forbes headline was from last February, a month before COVID-19 hit the United States.

There are multiple explanations behind the pre-pandemic declines: too many award shows, indifferent younger viewers, and work and artists often not widely known. Yet there’s a far more logical reason, and you just might be reading this story on its central catalyst, a smart phone.

The Academy Awards also face a fundamental impasse that the Tonys and Grammys don’t: There’s no way for the Oscars to have live performances of the art form they celebrate.
Support for LAist comes from

Before the advent of social media, if you wanted to see a celebrity outside of a movie role, you had two basic choices: browse paparazzi photos in People magazine or US Weekly; or watch the Academy Awards every year and see the stars on the red carpet.

Now, thanks largely to apps such as Instagram, you have instant access, and you don’t need to turn on a TV. Wonder who Ben Affleck is dating? The answer is but a click away. What’s Lady Gaga up to? Just as easy. Can’t sleep without knowing if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is still jacked? Well, yes, he’s still jacked, posting a workout video on Monday to his 230 million followers that in two days was viewed more than 2.6 million times — about a quarter of the total Oscar audience.

Beyonce Grammys Precious Lord
Beyonce performing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at the 2015 Grammys
(Larry Busacca
/
Getty Images)

The Academy Awards also face a fundamental impasse that the Tonys and Grammys don’t: There’s no way for the Oscars to have live performances of the art form they celebrate.

If you think of recent memorable Grammy moments, it might be Kendrick Lamar singing “Alright,” or Beyoncé performing “Take My Hand Precious Lord.” Over at the Tonys, maybe it’s the “Hamilton” cast doing “History Has Its Eyes on You,” or Ben Platt singing “Waving Through a Window” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Support for LAist comes from
Jack Palance One Handed Pushups 1992 Oscars
Actor Jack Palance Performs One-Handed Pushups in the 1992 Oscars
(Craig Fujii
/
Associated Press)

For the Oscars, you’ve got ... what? A streaker in 1974’s show, Jack Palance doing one-handed pushups in 1991, Roberto Benigni walking on top of seats in 1999, or Cuba Gooding’s over-the-top acceptance speech in 1997. Notable, maybe, but all had nothing to do with filmmaking.

So how can the Academy Awards highlight the actual craft of what they honor? Here’s one (maybe not entirely) crazy idea. If you know the cooking competition show “Top Chef,” you’re familiar with its premise: challenge a bunch of chefs to create a multi-course gourmet dinner with ingredients they only can buy at a gas station mini-mart. In three hours.

What if the Oscars tried something similar? The losers don’t have to pack up their knives at the end, because it’s not a contest. It’s a demonstration. And let’s populate this backstage thought exercise with real filmmakers.

A photo of "Top Chef" cast and producers, winners of the Reality - Competition Program Award for "Top Chef"
"Top Chef" cast and producers, winners of the Reality - Competition Program Award for "Top Chef" pose in the press room at the 62nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the JW Marriott Los Angeles at L.A. Live on August 29, 2010.
(Jason Merritt
/
Getty Images North America)
Support for LAist comes from

So, at the start of the ceremony, give “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig a three-minute film script for two characters written by Emerald Fennell of “Promising Young Woman.” Over the course of half-a-dozen intervals during the show, we watch Gerwig rehearse with “Creed” actor Tessa Thompson and Rami Malek from “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As “Green Book” composer Kris Bowers sketches out the score on a piano, “Black Panther” cinematographer Rachel Morrison lights the set and shoots the film. “Gravity’s” Alfonso Cuarón quickly cuts the film (yes, he’s also an editor), and just before the best picture is presented, everybody sees the finished short.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences might have to cut the short film Oscars from the ceremony to make room, but if something dramatic isn’t done, the audience could continue to shrink.