Oscars goes cute and safe with Ellen DeGeneres as host

When I woke up this morning I checked my inbox on my phone and quickly saw there were a number of E-mails with the headline “Ellen DeGeneres returns to host…” My first thought was, “Wow, FOX must have spent a ton of money to get DeGeneres to return as an ‘American Idol’ judge.  I wonder if that means Jennifer Lopez is still coming back?”  Of course, a host and a judge are two very different things (don’t worry Seacrest your job is safe and I was half awake) and it quickly dawned on me that, instead, DeGeneres is heading for her second go around as Oscar host.

Oh, well.

Outside of her core fan base (viewers of her popular daytime talk show) the selection of DeGeneres will be met with a collective yawn.  The 55-year-old comedienne is almost the antithesis of pseudo frat boy Seth MacFarlane’s hire a year ago. She’s beyond safe and to say she’ll be nice to the Dolby Theater crowd is an understatement of epic proportions (and her hire is a huge confirmation that Academy members were more upset with MacFarlane’s performance than AMPAS was willing to publicly admit).  Chances are there won’t be any huge musical number even with Craig Zaden and Neil Meron back for another go around as producers (although I’m still waiting for a 10-year “Memoirs of a Geisha” tribute).  Of course, DeGeneres first hosted in 2007 and she was fine in what turned into a safe, but pretty unmemorable show. Check out her opening monologue.

She’ll be fine, she’ll be cute and she won’t offend anyone. It’s an easy choice  These aren’t digs at DeGeneres. I have a huge amount of respect for her as a trailblazing openly gay entertainer. You could easily argue that without her brave public step in 1997 gay and lesbians might not have the level of public acceptance and legal rights they have today. But, as an entertainer? Personally, I find her just a tad too bland for Oscar.

Surprisingly and not so surprisingly, the announcement of DeGeneres as host came only three days after Cheryl Boone Isaacs was named Academy president.  With the creative team behind the show pretty much set at the beginning of August it now gives Isaacs more time to focus on what is increasingly becoming AMPAS first priority, locking down fundraising for the new Academy Museum.  From a business perspective it’s all very textbook. Clear away the issues that can suck up time first (like convincing, er, finding someone to host) and move on to the tough stuff.

For DeGeneres, it’s a good career move. She made it clear she did not want to host back-to-back (Jon Stewart returned after her) and now is much better timing. “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is entrenched as the premier daytime talk show, but it hasn’t expanded its audience following the end of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011. The Oscars bring some welcome attention to the DeGeneres and the program which could use a little jolt of energy.

It’s become increasingly clear that finding someone buzzworthy to host the Academy Awards is getting tougher and tougher. Finding a “perfect” host such as Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal is clearly a once in a generation (or possibly two or three) thing. MacFarlane’s hire brought a lot of attention to the show last year because of his hardcore fans and his hardcore detractors.  Before that the last host anyone got really excited about was Eddie Murphy and that turned into a public relations nightmare thanks to Brett Ratner. Ellen’s hire still doesn’t eliminate the fact that if NBC can create more anticipation for Tina Fey and Amy Poeher hosting the Globes (shoot, even pairing Poehler with someone else would do that).  Ellen? She’ll be fine. I’m hoping she just won’t be forgettable.

Someone pass me a vodka martini with a splash of lemon and wake me when it’s over.

The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2, 2014 and broadcast live on ABC.