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Podcasts The Academy Museum Podcast
1953: Broadcasting the Oscars
Academy - Marquee
Episode 8
42:26
1953: Broadcasting the Oscars
The episode will look at the history of broadcasting the Oscars®, from radio to television, the rituals fans have created around the broadcast, and a discussion of the future of presenting the Academy Awards in the age of social media. Guests: Academy president David Rubin (TBD), ABC executive Rob Mills, comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, TCM host and entertainment expert Dave Karger

Jacqueline Stewart 0:00

Since the Oscars first aired on television in 1953, there have been nearly 70 live telecasts of the award show.

Bruce Vilanch 0:09

My name is on 25 of them, and I've been unofficially involved with a few others. [laughs]

Jacqueline Stewart 0:15

That's comedy writer, Bruce Vilanch. He's won two Emmys for his work on the Academy Awards.

Bruce Vilanch 0:21

The idea is to, you know, keep it- it's a party and you want to, it to be as spontaneous as possible. And you want the audience to know especially in these th- these times, it's live live. And of course, the acceptance speeches is where you get so much of the show. You hope that people will say something real when they get up there.

Olivia Colman 0:40

[Academy Awards soundbite] To be in this category with these extraordinary women and Glenn Close, I- You've been my idol for so long, and this is not how I wanted it to be. And I, I think you're amazing. [audience laughs] I love you very much. [applause]

Bong Joon-Ho 0:51

[Academy Awards soundbite] [applause] Thank you, I, I will drink until next morning. Thank you. [audience laughs]

Jacqueline Stewart 0:58

But for the rest of the Academy Awards broadcast...

Bruce Vilanch 1:02

Everything is written. And then we see, you know, we have stuff we prepared and then we rewrite as as we go along.

Whoopi Goldberg 1:07

[Academy Awards soundbite] And the Oscar for best performance by an actor in a supporting role goes to... Jack Palance in City Slickers. [applause and music] [duck under]

Bruce Vilanch 1:17

When Jack Palance got up and did one arm pushups, that became a thing.

Jacqueline Stewart 1:23

At the 1992 Oscars, the then 73-year-old actor, Jack Palance, won for his role in City Slickers, which he starred in alongside the host that night, Billy Crystal.

Jack Palance 1:34

[Academy Awards soundbite] You know, there are times when uh, when you reach a certain age plateau where the uh, the producers say, they talk about you and they say, 'Well, what do you think? Can we risk it? Can we do it? Can we use him?'

Jacqueline Stewart 1:44

Then he walked over to the side of the podium so the audience could see him and started doing one arm pushups. [sound of audience cheering, applauding]

Bruce Vilanch 1:53

And we threw out a lot of the script and kept doing jokes about Jack Palance because he came up and the first thing he said, which nobody remembers, is: [Academy Awards soundbite] 'Billy Crystal- [Jack Palance laughs] I crap bigger than him.' [audience laughs] So I thought, well, he lowered the bar considerably. And it was the first award of the night. So we felt b-, and Billy felt he could fire back, you know. So we kept firing back through the show. And that became a thing to riff off of acceptance speeches. Of course, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson did it all the time. They would come back with one line maybe. But some of my favorite moments were off of things that were done as a result of acceptance speeches.

Jacqueline Stewart 2:32

In every other episode this season, we've looked at the story of a specific person or film. But today, we're going to get a little meta and talk about the formation of the award show itself.

Dave Karger 2:44

I wasn't really a sports guy as a kid, but I was into the whole competition of it all.

Jacqueline Stewart 2:49

This is my fellow Turner Classic Movies host, Dave Karger.

Dave Karger 2:50

I was into the idea of the, of that iconic moment where you see the five boxes and all the five faces, and then the winner is announced.

Jacqueline Stewart 2:52

Dave has co-hosted ABC's Live from the Red Carpet, and he's been the Academy's official greeter- announcing the nominees and presenters as they arrive. And he's a longtime Oscars observer.

Dave Karger 3:14

When I go back and watch moments from older ceremonies, it's very self-serious. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. It's meant to be this kind of prestigious moment. But I think it's been interesting to watch it over my lifetime, your lifetime, become more of an entertainment experience. You know, you think about the moment with the streaker with David Niven.

Jacqueline Stewart 3:35

At the 1974 Oscars, a streaker interrupted British actor David Niven, who was co-hosting that night...

David Niven 3:42

[Academy Awards soundbite] [audience shocked and disoriented] Well, ladies and gentlemen, that uh, that was almost bound to happen. [audience laughs] But isn't it fascinating that, [audience laughs] fascinating to think that, that probably the only love that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings. [audience laughs]

Dave Karger 4:03

You know, all of the interesting dance numbers that have now sprung out of the Oscars, and having- there's always been comedians hosting, but now they're with people like Jimmy Kimmel, or Ellen DeGeneres. I think it's gone a little bit sillier which I think is good.

Jacqueline Stewart 4:16

It's a delicate balance, celebrating the art of filmmaking, the artists in front of and behind the camera, keeping the in-house audience and viewers at home entertained-- all on live television, where things can, and sometimes do, go wrong.

Bruce Vilanch 4:33

And if you're, if you write this kind of stuff for a living, it's, it's like being a football player and going to the Super Bowl. This is the game that everybody will see.

Jacqueline Stewart 4:43

[theme music] I'm Jacqueline Stewart. Welcome to the Academy Museum Podcast. In this episode, we are revisiting the 1953 Academy Awards, the year of the first Oscars telecast. How making the biggest night in movies a television event changed the meaning of the awards. And with the ceremony approaching its 100-year anniversary, how might it have to change to keep the world's attention? [music out]

Jacqueline Stewart 5:21

When you look at the way that people think about the Academy Awards today, how does that compare in your mind to what they were initially set up to do when it was a much more kind of intimate gathering?

Dave Karger 5:34

It's so funny to think back to the first Oscars in the late 1920s, when they were this 15-minute-long ceremony as part of of dinner. The winners had been announced three months earlier, so everyone knew they had won. The handing out of the awards took 15 minutes, and it was just kind of- here you go. And it was this, just this new idea to give awards of merit, as they were called, that this newly formed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came up with this idea of, of, you know, maybe as a PR uh move, I think that was a lot of the impetus for it. I think 1920s, there were some negative stories going around about the movie industry and movie stars. There were some scandals.

Jacqueline Stewart 6:16

Those scandals included highly publicized rape and murder cases involving actors and directors in the 1920s. And before the motion picture production code went into effect in 1934, and censorship took hold, the film industry was being heavily criticized for the negative social impact of violence and salacious content in movies.

Dave Karger 6:38

And I think that this was one way to kind of combat that, and for Hollywood to say to the world, there's quality product coming out of what we're doing.

Jacqueline Stewart 6:47

The first time the Oscars were broadcast to an outside audience was not on television but live on local LA radio in 1930 for the Academy Awards second year. [audio clip: opening music for radio broadcast of 1930 Academy Awards] In 1945, the ceremony was broadcast on national radio for the first time, and Bob Hope was the host.

Bob Hope 7:07

[Academy Awards radio audio clip] This is quite an occasion. I don't know if everybody's nervous or not, but there'll be a short intermission, while the ushers sweep the fingernails out of the aisle. [audience laughs]

Jacqueline Stewart 7:13

It was also the first year that included clips from the nominated films. A commentator described the scenes for the radio audience like a baseball announcer. Or like video description for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Academy Award Announcer 7:26

[audio clip from radio broadcast] Here is an intensely dramatic scene from the equally intense picture, Lifeboat, that was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. You can hear I'm sure, the soundtrack in the background, although there is no dialogue in this particular scene. [duck under]

Dave Karger 7:39

And at that time, the ceremony was partially funded by the movie studios. And that helped pay for it. But when some of the studios were pulling their funding, that's when the Academy realized they need other revenue streams.

Jacqueline Stewart 7:57

One reason movie studios started tightening their purse strings was because of a 1948 Supreme Court ruling. In the landmark Paramount decision, the court found the studios guilty of violating antitrust laws. As a result, most of them had to divest of their theater chains, and their profits were down.

Dave Karger 8:17

So that's really the main reason why the Oscars began to be televised.

Academy Award Announcer 8:22

[1953 Academy Awards soundbite] [music] The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 25th Annual Academy Awards. [duck under]

Jacqueline Stewart 8:29

Maybe not surprisingly, because he's headed up the most Oscar ceremonies, the host for that first TV broadcast on NBC was again, Bob Hope.

Bob Hope 8:39

[Academy Awards soundbite] This is indeed a wedding of two great entertainment mediums with uh, motion pictures and television.

Dave Karger 8:45

And you have the jokes that Bob Hope is making, you know, calling television a child bride, on this TV telecast honoring film.

Bob Hope 8:53

[Academy Awards soundbite] With Oscar 25 years old, it's high time he got married. [audience laughs] While it's true that he has a child bride, it's a comfort to know that the kid is loaded. [audience laughs] In fact, the bride's father is picking up the tab for this wedding reception. [audience laughs]

Dave Karger 9:10

I think that was the elephant in the room. There was this tension between film and TV and it, what's interesting is that this Oscar ceremony likely marked the first television appearance for a lot of these big movie stars, for sure.

Bob Hope 9:24

[Academy Awards soundbite] Isn't it exciting to know that a lot of these glamorous stars are going to be in your homes tonight? All over America housewives are turning to their husbands and saying put on your shirt, Joan Crawford is coming. [audience laughs]

Dave Karger 9:36

Look at the people who were even nominated in the acting categories- Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Alec Guinness, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gloria Graham, Richard Burton, Anthony Quinn. These were not people who were accessible celebrities, right? These are people who the audience saw on the silver screen or maybe in a photo play, you know, or celebrity magazine in a still photo. So this was a very rare moment where these huge movie stars who were only ever seen in character or in a very orchestrated PR moment that's captured on still photography, being themselves.

Jacqueline Stewart 10:18

This is a really interesting period for both media, right? Like, the film industry is competing with television. And in many ways, kind of, you know, losing, and trying to figure out the strategies for making going to the movies very different from watching TV. This is where color becomes so important. Technicolor and cinema scope, [laughing] giving away dishes, like whatever theater owners could do to get people into the theaters. So it was a really interesting dynamic to have this celebration of the movies on television.

Bob Hope 10:53

[Academy Awards soundbite] But some movie companies are still stubborn about recognizing television. Jack Warner still refers to TV as that furniture that stares back. [audience laughs] But movies are still your best entertainment. It's all movies... [duck under]

Jacqueline Stewart 11:06

Could you just talk about, like some of the tensions between movies and TV because there was a real hierarchy culturally, artistically, at the same time that there was also a difference, a huge difference in terms of, of numbers, right, of of profit.

Dave Karger 11:22

I mean, TV was really where it was at. At this point, everybody everybody was now getting one. Um, it's kind of like how you know cable then overtook broadcasts, and then streaming has now overtaken cable. This was TV overtaking movies to a, to some extent at the time. And you know, all the things you mentioned that the movie industry then tried to do to combat this and get people out of their homes- CinemaScope, Technicolor, 3D...

Bob Hope 11:45

[Academy Awards soundbite] Don't get me wrong, television is wonderful- today, you can sit home and uh, see Broadway shows, go to church in your own living room. You don't have to go outside for anything. I was born on a farm where you had to go outside for everything. [audience laughs]

Dave Karger 12:00

And then just in general, these kind of larger spectacle type films. You know, so the 50s was the decade of Ben Hur, or the 50s was the decade of tellingly, the movie that won the Best Picture for the year that we're talking about, which was The Greatest Show on Earth. Um, and that was, you know, the big Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza with every star known to man.

Jacqueline Stewart 12:20

Set against the backdrop of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth starred Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Dorothy Lamour, and Gloria Grahame.

Dave Karger 12:30

So I think they were pulling out all the stops at that point, and and I I think it's telling that The Greatest Show on Earth won best picture that year, because it's widely considered one of the least deserving um, Best Picture winners of all time. It beat High Noon, which of course, stands the test of time a little bit more, I would argue, and a lot of people would, than The Greatest Show on Earth.

Bruce Vilanch 12:54

I dimly remember watching the first one because the first movie I ever saw was The Greatest Show on Earth.

Jacqueline Stewart 13:01

Again, that's comedy writer, Bruce Vilanch. In the years following that first broadcast, there were some network changes from NBC to ABC, back to NBC, and then back to ABC again. The format we know today began to take shape, with elaborate musical and dance performances, traditions like the In Memoriam montage, the red carpet becoming a show unto itself, and watch parties happening across the country, including at Bruce Vilanch's house.

Bruce Vilanch 13:31

I was in Paterson, New Jersey, and it went on at 10 o'clock at night in New York. And at the time as, they had the New York uh audience and that LA audience, and they would go back and forth. The winner in New York is... uh so uh and I dimly remember watching it, but but I watched it every year from from then on. It was a ritual in our house. When I was a kid, my mother would have me take a disco nap. And then she'd wake me up for it, and we'd sit there with party hats, and you know, and and the Canada Dry posing as champagne. So it was- she loved it. I mean, it was also, it was, it was, she was an Oscar junkie, she loved... So it was a, it was, I always thought I'd somehow be involved in it. And there, and I was.

Jacqueline Stewart 14:18

Bruce's first writing credit for the awards was in 1989. And over the next decade, the Academy Awards would see some of its highest ratings, peaking in 1998, the year that Titanic won Best Picture. After being involved in more than 25 Oscars broadcasts, Bruce has some stories and thoughts about what makes a successful show.

Bruce Vilanch 14:40

I've said to every host, I said the thing to remember is that one person wins in each category. And as, so as the evening wears on, the audience is filled up with losers if they've stayed after they've lost. And so the energy, they're not really paying attention to you. They're, at this point, they're texting, firing people, because they didn't win. So you, you run the risk of having a room largely populated by seat fillers, because people have left or by people who are terminally bitter. And they don't make for the best audiences as the, as the show goes on. So that's why uh the hosts, we frequently would front load the show with the good stuff because a- nobody was paying attention as as the, as it wore on.

Jacqueline Stewart 15:32

And then there are the acceptance speeches. We highlight some of the most memorable ones in the Academy Museums Academy Awards history gallery.

Bruce Vilanch 15:40

You always want somebody to do something theatrical or meaningful or whatever when they, when they win. And sometimes they're just overwhelmed, and they just say thank you and disappear. And of course, that does save you time. Uh, so you can't really hate them. But uh, you know, you want them to to do something that really uh, uh, that really is moving. I mean because when it's real, when it's sincere, it's a great moment. It's a great cultural touchstone. I think my favorite acceptance speech is Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen 16:11

[Academy Awards soundbite] This is the first song I ever wrote for motion picture. So I guess it's all downhill from here. [audience laughs] [Springsteen laughing] But uh... [duck under]

Bruce Vilanch 16:20

When he won for the song for Philadelphia, and talked about what popular art is supposed to be...

Jacqueline Stewart 16:27

Philadelphia is the 1993 film starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, about a lawyer with HIV who is fired from his firm and sues for discrimination.

Bruce Springsteen 16:36

[Academy Award soundbite] [applause] Now you, you do your best work, and you hope that it pulls out the best in your audience, that some piece of it spills over into the real world, and into people's everyday lives. And it takes the edge off the fear and allows us to recognize each other through our veil of differences.

Bruce Vilanch 16:56

I thought what a profound thing, you know, for this, for the, for this rock and roll guy to say, I mean, he's the boss. That's why he's the boss. But it was, that's what, you want wonderful moments like that.

Jacqueline Stewart 17:09

And then in terms of the audience, because it seems like getting that tone right is the really, you know, that's the secret sauce of it. Like, who are you speaking to? How much do you revere the awards versus try to do something that's more lighthearted?

Bruce Vilanch 17:24

It's a combination, depending on who you've got in charge. But it, there's always a balance. You don't want to be too lighthearted. I mean, Letterman's problem was that, that he brought too much of his own show to to the Oscars, and they weren't there for that. You know, and you can't, you can't do the kind of stuff that he did, which I love, which is kind of juvenile.

David Letterman 17:48

[Academy Awards soundbite] I've been dying to do something all day. And I think maybe we can take care of this.

Bruce Vilanch 17:56

You know, Uma, Oprah.

David Letterman 17:57

[Awards soundbite continues] Oprah? [audience laughs, claps] Uma? [laughter] Uma? [laughter] Oprah? [laughter] I feel much better. [applause, laughter]

Bruce Vilanch 18:17

He kept riffing on their names. And you know, they're not at the Oscars to have TV boy make fun of their names.

David Letterman 18:22

[Academy soundbite continues] Have you kids met Keanu? [audience laughs]

Jacqueline Stewart 18:25

[laughs] Has there ever been a a year when you could see that you needed to change direction, that there were some things that you needed to do, you and the writing team to kind [Bruce: Oh yeah, uh...] of like, turn it around?

Bruce Vilanch 18:38

Gil Cates, Gil Cates loved themes. And I don't even know if people realize that the show had a theme every time he was producing it. But one year the the theme was women, women in film. And Chuck Workman put together this incredible clip package. The audience was in tears. It was every famous scene that a woman had ever done. Uh, and a lot of them were very moving. And Billy had to follow that. And uh, we didn't know what the clip was gonna be until the last minute and uh, it was also the year of Basic Instinct, and so Billy said, wonderful, we're celebrating all these parts in movies, because we know the biggest part this year was Sharon Stone's. Which which now of course, is a joke that would immediately get you sent to to cancel-ville. But then, was you know, it was a groaner, but I mean, it was- the audience was actually actively angry that he would follow this thing, and it was, it was a rare misstep, but he was aware of it. And so we took, we went through the everything else that we had prepared to to just make sure that with it, there was nothing that was anything that was like that, because clearly, they had really been moved by this this piece. And it was just the wrong, it was the wrong note.

Jacqueline Stewart 19:55

Is there a certain joke or bit song that you got onto a broadcast that you feel especially proud of?

Bruce Vilanch 20:04

Um. Well, y-, uh I uh, I I joke that proud we got a fart joke in. Uh, a- a- Whoopi was hosting of course. [laughs] And it uh, it followed the number from Pocahontas called the colors of my, the color of my wind, the colors of my wind, the colors of the wind, performed from Pocahontas, performed by Vanessa Williams, and it was a weird conceptual number and afterwards Whoopi came in and said, something I've always wondered, what color is my wind? It got a huge laugh and uh, and the network sensor kind of looked at me like [Jacqueline laughs]- There was, I, I laughed. This was Futterman. Susan Futterman was the network sensor for all of those things. And she's retired, but she really was hysterical because she was always on the writers' side.

Jacqueline Stewart 20:52

Is that right?

Bruce Vilanch 20:53

Yeah, absolutely.

Jacqueline Stewart 20:54

Wow. Wow. You have to tell us more about Mrs. Futterman.

Bruce Vilanch 20:59

It was, it was, sometimes you get these standards of practice people, and they're very, they're very Priscilla good body, and you know, they're stuck up and they're- And they feel they have no life experience, and this is why they're in that job. But she was not like that. We had a joke one year. It was the year that Hugh Grant was busted with a hooker whose name was Divine Brown. And Whoopi's joke was uh, what a year it's been. Of course, the biggest release was Hugh Grant's. And that got a laugh. And then she said, that's a real fellatio Alger story. And and Mrs. Futterman came over and said, you can't say fellatio. It's on the list of words that you cannot say. Fellatio is not- So we had to cut that part of the joke. [laughs] She was to the early part, but we couldn't, we had to cut the second part. You know, I mean, it's, it's, it's fun to do double entendre on on a big show like that. Because you know, as as you know, with all double entendre, people who get it laugh and people who don't get it shhhwww. [Jacqueline laughs] You know. They just think, what was that? And they move right along.

Jacqueline Stewart 22:02

Wow, wow. How much did your, you know, job, kind of depend on ratings? Like, did you have a a sense of feeling some pressure about what the ratings would be as a writer for the show?

Bruce Vilanch 22:17

Yeah, but the ratings really had more to do with the movies of the year than anything else. I mean, you might get an artificial bump with a host, because there's a curiosity factor. But basically, if you've had, if it's been a big year at the movies, people are interested in in what the show is. They they have, they're more in touch. If you say, oh, it's the Oscars are on and people say but I haven't seen any of these movies, you know, then, you know, it's gonna be a depressed rating thing. But I think when you look over the chart, you have to realize that that there there's been a precipitous drop. But you know, there's been a precipitous drop in everything. I mean, it's a 500-work channel universe to begin with now. Plus, people have so many other things to do on their phones. And, you know, it's the, there's no more broadcasting, there's narrow casting. You know, when I started writing the show, it was still a three-network tow- I mean, it may have been a four network town by then. And um, you kn- you had, if you didn't get at least a third of the audience, you were off the air as a regular show, you know. I mean, you had to get at least 17 million people watching you, or 30, you know, in order to to stay on the air. And now, you know, I mean uh the other night, CBS won the night with three and a half million people watching. So it's a different, it's a new world, Goldie!

Jacqueline Stewart 23:45

Yes. Yes. I mean, do you feel that as a result of this, you know, proliferation of options that people have and television changing so much that the Academy Awards can have the same kind of cultural place that it had when you were writing for it, when you started watching it as a as a kid?

Bruce Vilanch 24:05

Probably not. And I hate to say that because it really is- I love the ritual. I think there's also the uh, the proliferation of award shows, many of which I've written, and the run up to the Oscars, which is interesting in our bubble, but probably not that interesting to people in Dubuque, Iowa. It has has decimated the the population that's going to watch it. I think that uh, I feel bad about that. I don't know that somebody in their 20s gives a rat's ass about what, about the Oscars A, or whether what's going to happen to them? I mean, at this point, it's much more about a corporate struggle between people who me- who make money off the Academy Awards. Number one, the Academy, number two, the network and then number three is the studios who use the Oscar as what it always was intended to be used for- a publicity tool, a way to get people asses into seats. So there's a lot of money at stake, but it's but there always was, but there still is a lot of money at stake. But it's it's like polar bears arguing, having a turf war over melting ice.

Jacqueline Stewart 25:25

[music begins] Similar to 1953, when television's popularity was rising, viewing habits have been changing dramatically in recent years. Ratings for award shows are down. So how does the Oscars broadcast stay relevant now and into the future? After the break, we'll hear from David Rubin, outgoing president of the Academy, and ABC executive Rob Mills, about how they imagine the future of the Academy Awards broadcast. [music out]

David Rubin 26:10

It was fascinating to watch the transition from a radio broadcast of the Oscars to a television broadcast of the Oscars, because that was a transitional moment, similar to what we are experiencing now.

Jacqueline Stewart 26:22

That's outgoing Academy President, David Rubin.

David Rubin 26:25

The way people are receiving their entertainment, particularly younger audiences, is markedly different from just a a decade ago. It's something that the Academy has had to contend with, along with our broadcast partners at ABC. And it's it's not reconciled yet. I think it's on an annual basis. Experiments are are being tried, to see how you can engage the people that are less connected to three-hour broadcast about the movies.

Jacqueline Stewart 26:58

So far this episode, we've talked about how the Academy Awards broadcast is more than just one thing. It's a celebration of excellence in filmmaking, and it's a massive live entertainment event. It's also a partnership, a long running and important one between the Academy and ABC.

David Rubin 27:17

Both entities have such a tremendous stake in the outcome. ABC through through their advertising income and the Academy through a contract with the network that subsidizes all the great work that the Academy does throughout the year. The partnership with ABC to produce a world class night of television celebrating movies is is es- essential to the existence of the Academy.

Rob Mills 27:45

And so we work together sort of figuring out putting together the show all the way through Oscar night. But it really is, it's a year-round process.

Jacqueline Stewart 27:54

Rob Mills is Executive Vice President of unscripted and alternative entertainment for Walt Disney Television. That includes special events on ABC, like the Oscars.

Rob Mills 28:04

I think that when you have something that's 95 years old, it can't live in a vacuum. It's got to change; it's got to evolve. It still has to hold true to the core principles, and everything that that the show is supposed to be about. But you know, you never, I'm never against trying anything. And I have to say one of the things that we actually did try and didn't work was the year Steven Soderbergh produced it. And we put Best Actor last, gambling that you know, it was gonna be Chadwick Boseman, and that was gonna be the biggest, most emotional moment of the the whole telecast and of course, it ended up being somebody who wasn't even there.

Joaquin Phoenix 28:44

[Academy Awards soundbite] [applause] And the Academy Award for actor goes to Anthony Hopkins, The Father. [applause] The Academy congratulates Anthony Hopkins and accepts the Oscar on his behalf. Thank you.

Rob Mills 29:00

So you know, that didn't work but at least yy- you can never fault anyone for trying something. And um, I also, I remember, I think maybe the 89th Oscars or something. So you're 89 years in and they brought in David Hill from, who had done the NFL for Fox, and Reggie Hudlin to produce it. And David said, you know, I want to do something that people- you know, the problem with Oscar speeches, you don't get to the emotion fast enough because they want to thank their agent or their you know, the people who are important to them, but it's really a laundry list of names. So I want to do, when they're walking to the stage, they have the option of doing a lower third crawl, so it would say such and su- you know, Sylvester Stallone wants to thank his brother Frank and his his mom and, and it was one of those things that, it didn't really work, but it was great to to try it and and see if it could work.

Jacqueline Stewart 29:55

As the network executive who oversees big event specials for Walt Disney Television, Rob is there in person for the Oscars.

Jacqueline Stewart 30:02

[to Rob Mills] So you have been in the control room for some really surprising moments at Oscar ceremonies, [Rob laughs] the best-

Rob Mills 30:10

Which moments are you talking about?

Jacqueline Stewart 30:12

Well, I'm thinking about, you know, some envelope issues in 2017. [Rob laughs and says, "Yeah."] Thinking about [laughs] what happened just a few months ago. Uh, when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage? Obviously two very different examples of things not going as expected. And I just would love to hear your experience of, kind of, you know, when there's a moment like that in this massive kind of show, what wh- how do you deal in the moment with situations like that? You and the team of folks involved in the broadcast?

Rob Mills 30:44

Well, in the moment, you know, it's really because it is live, it's really, you know, you've you're sort of on a bus without breaks. It's just, it's just going to keep going. So you've got to keep it going. And that's really what it's about. Sometimes, and I remember with the envelope thing...

Jacqueline Stewart 31:02

At the 2017 Oscars, before Best Picture was announced, presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope by the representative from PricewaterhouseCoopers. And they mistakenly announced that the winner was La La land. After the film's producers began their speeches, it became clear that something had gone wrong.

La La Land Producer 31:22

[Academy Awards soundbite] There's a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. [a few cheers, some applause] This is not a joke. This is not a joke. I'm afraid they read the wrong thing. This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture. Moonlight, Best Picture. [applause]

Rob Mills 31:42

Hearing that over the mic, and I thought that because we had all been, we were packing our stuff up, and we're getting ready to go to the governor's ball. And I thought it was, because it was our stage manager, who I know well and he's actually a really, he's a funny guy. So I thought he was kidding. I thought Oh, that's really funny that it would be the the wrong envelope. Little, you know, and then we find out 10 seconds later, oh, my God, he's not kidding. They actually gave out the wrong en-, or she read the wrong thing. And um, you know, you just, you try and take I mean, this is the Oscar. So it is the world's best, you know, TV. You've got best in class in everything, and that includes at that point, it was the stage manager, Gary Natoli, who really wrangled everyone, got everyone together, and our director Glenn Weiss, who just kept the show going and making sure that, you know, the producers of Moonlight did get to give their speech. And we were fortunate too- we had a host in Jimmy Kimmel who could really sort of put everything together, put a bow on it. We were very fortunate that that was one of the years we had a host. Um, but you just sort of, you know, you you keep going, you get the show wrapped up, it's live. And you press on. And then after that you do a postmortem, which the Academy certainly did with PricewaterhouseCoopers. And and that's, that's really all you can do is afterwards is when you can look at everything. And you know, what, what was this? How did this work? You know, and how do we avoid? If it's something that is a moment, you don't really want? How do we avoid it in the future? And it really was the same thing this past year, which was it was again, it was a live show. So y- we pressed on in the moment, obviously we we kept the show going and then afterwards, there's still discourse about it, obviously. So. So I think afterwards is really when you you will get everything. But in the moment, [music begins] you've just got to keep the show going.

Jacqueline Stewart 33:43

Does the ratings question keep you up at night, David? I'm wondering just how consistently this is the issue that comes up for you.

David Rubin 33:55

One thing that needs to be reconciled in some way is that the the films themselves that the Academy members are recognizing uh, are often films that haven't been seen by a huge global audience, or certainly not yet. And those films are 100% worthy of recognition and praise and awards, but it's been many years, probably since Titanic swept the Oscars, that audiences around the world have had a real stake in rooting for a favorite film that they've all seen and loved. And mostly they're being introduced to interesting work being done on films that haven't yet come within 100 miles of their hometown. And that's a challenge in creating a broadcast that goes out globally.

Jacqueline Stewart 34:53

Yes, yes. And what you said about efforts to experiment to try different strategies to bridge the gap that you're talking about. This is something that clearly has been happening over recent years. And I wonder if there are any of these um, you know, efforts that you felt were really, you know, are worth exploring more. Thinking about the popular film category, for example, or, you know, other ways of bridging that disconnect that you were just talking about.

David Rubin 35:23

I think a lot of it can be most effective in gearing up toward the Oscars. And I'm hoping that going forward, there is programming, either on the ABC television network or on the streaming affiliates that all fall under the Disney banner, which are Hulu and Disney Plus and lots of possibilities to to talk about the movies that people will be rewarding on the Oscars well in advance. So that they have a sense, just as they do in in, in leading up to the Olympics every four years. There are you know, there are there are compelling human interest stories told about all of those athletes, about whom we know nothing, prior to the Olympic year. And I think there's there's a way of hooking audiences into the to the people involved, the crafts involved in making films that might enable them to feel as though they have an emotional stake, uh a horse in the race, even though the the film itself might not have even reached their hometown.

Jacqueline Stewart 36:36

Yeah, no, that's really, really interesting.

David Rubin 36:38

It doesn't feel right, to suggest that Academy voters should not pay attention to the quality no matter where they find it. So I I feel as though if if there's, there's a quality film out there that hasn't been seen by the masses, it's it's still worth celebrating and touting. And and maybe we should just work harder to let everybody in on the secret of the brilliance of those films. And and also, I think it's likewise important for Academy voters not to be snobbish about the artistry, craftsmanship, and storytelling that is happening in major motion pictures, on blockbuster motion pictures, because the work that's happening on those films is just as worthy of recognition and mustn't be overlooked in favor of any other film.

Jacqueline Stewart 37:32

One of the most controversial issues surrounding the Oscars has been this question of whether and how the Academy should recognize more, quote, unquote, popular films. And the decision to pre-tape some of the awards and present an edited version of the speeches during the 2022 telecast sparked a lot of criticism in the lead up to the awards.

Jacqueline Stewart 37:52

[to David Rubin] One of the things that I've heard people of color in the industry say, especially as as the conversations were happening about how to handle pre-taping some of the award presentations this year, is how important it is for people who are from marginalized groups to see someone like them, go up there and win an award, no matter what the category is. And I would love to just hear you talk about how that aspect of the broadcast about that kind of um, of mirroring that can happen. How that's a dimension of it, too, that's so important in the way that it speaks beyond people who are in the industry itself.

David Rubin 38:38

The Academy has worked very hard to expand its membership, to increase the number of people of color, the number of women and the number of international filmmakers. And that has, that has, in in many ways, shown a change in in the kinds of films that are being recognized, the kinds of films that are winning these awards. And as a result, the people that are bounding up onto that stage to accept them are now more and more, and this is really just a step in the right direction, more and more looking like the people in our audience and and connecting with young people, people around the world who who are realizing that if they have a dream to tell stories on the big screen, it can happen. It can not only happen, but they can excel at it and they can be recognized for it. So the aspirational aspects of this of this broadcast are tremendous. And they have to be underscored and magnified, you know, going forward. It's it's a tremendous influence on people's lives, understanding that there are possibilities for them to have a career in motion pictures, to know a bit more about the crafts that are represented on the Oscars- opens up possibilities. And it's it's really a [music begins] huge part of the Academy's mission to enhance that element of the Oscars broadcast. [music out]

Jacqueline Stewart 40:20

[theme music] The Academy Museum podcast is written and hosted by me, Jacqueline Stewart. This episode was produced by Monica Bushman. The Academy Museum podcast team includes Antonia Cereijido, Victoria Alejandro, Kimberly Stevens and Monica Bushman. The show was a production of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in collaboration with LAist Studios. Mixing by E. Scott Kelly. Our theme music was composed by Nicolas Britell. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers for LAist Studios. Our podcast website LAist.com/podcast is designed by Andy Cheatwood, and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The Academy Museum marketing team created our branding. Thanks to the team at the Academy Museum, including Shawn Anderson, Peter Castro, Stephanie Sykes and Matt Youngner. And to our Academy colleagues, Randy Haberkamp and Claire Lockhart. Thanks also to the team at LAist Studios, including Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino and Leo G. Academy Museum digital engagement platforms, including this podcast are sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. [music out]

Transcribed by https://otter.ai