Last night we all watched an Oscars broadcast that was, surprisingly, efficient. It was still well before 11:00 p.m. on the East coast when the big awards started to be handed out. With a speedy show, my Twitter timeline was filled with some version of the same, “Hey, this no host thing is great.” It was one of the tidiest Oscar telecasts in recent memory.
However, I, for one, really missed having a host.
Have you ever been to a concert where the band plays all the songs you want to hear, but there’s something a bit robotic about the whole affair? In 2007 I saw The Police at Madison Square Garden on their reunion tour. I enjoyed the show, but the whole thing felt a little robotic. There’s wasn’t a lot of banter and the “surprise” moments felt a little scripted. Then I looked up some previous setlists and it turned out they pretty much did the exact same show every night. It all felt a bit empty. Like, “Hey, you got exactly what you paid for, just like the customers tomorrow night will get what they paid for.” There was no personality to that show. That’s what the Oscars felt like last night. If there’s not a host next year – as many people seem to want – it will be the same thing. Yes, hosts can be sloppy, but that also gives the show a personality, and some banter. I like banter! And, apparently, I like my Oscars to be more sloppy than efficient.
It’s not even so much the opening numbers – though, my goodness, I would much rather have had Billy Crystal’s cheesiest monologue over Adam Lambert performing with two original members of Queen* – or the comedy bits, like the whole “surprise people watching who are watching a movie” from last year. It’s more like having some sort of authority figure who comes from the perspective of the audience. If something weird happens, it’s nice to have a host who can pop out and say, “That was weird, right?” Or if someone gets his or her speech cut off, but were in the middle of saying something important, it’s good to have a host who can come out and make sure that person can finish, as Jimmy Kimmel has done in the past.
(As an aside, there really should be some sort of law when it comes to the use of band names. Half of the original members of Queen performed last night, but they were introduced as Queen. Could you imagine if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr came out on stage with Chris Daughtry and Ed Sheeran, then the announcer says, “Let’s give a warm welcome to The Beatles!”)
A good host can put things in context. When Spike Lee won last night for Best Adapted screenplay, there’s no doubt the host, had there have been one, would have come out and framed that for television audience members who may not quite have realized what an important moment that was that they just witnessed. (Though, Samuel L. Jackson tried his darndest.) What a good host does is make sure we keep remembering that moment throughout the night. But, with no host, once something ended, that was it. There’s wasn’t anyone to say, “Wow, what a moment,” or, “What the hell?” It was just gone forever, on to the next presenter.
For instance, think of the infamous La La Land/Moonlight Best Picture fiasco. Now, imagine if there were no host. What would have happened? Most likely, instead of Jimmy Kimmel rushing on stage and delivering his “Warren, what did you do?” line, there would have been even more mass confusion on stage until some corporate stooge we’ve never seen before in our lives tapped the microphone, “Hello, uh, my name is Tom, I have an announcement.” One of the most interesting moments in Oscar history would have been reduced to some poor accounting schlub trying to explain that whole mess to a bunch of famous people.
Look, I get it, if you are somehow involved in any way with the Oscars – even people in media who have to cover the show – it’s nice to have a short, tidy show. “Just announce the winners and get on with the whole thing!” I actually understand that point of view, but when I think back to last night, other than a couple moments, there just wasn’t much personality to anything. I like personality!
Put it this way: when something crazy happens in the world, many of us like having our go-to late night host who we lean on in a “Oh, I wonder what so and so will say about that?” kind of way. That’s also what a good Oscar host provides. It’s the same dynamic. He or she is a tour guide through this absurd thing that, in reality, doesn’t affect our lives all that much, but we like it and care about it anyway. A lot of what we see during the Oscars is absurd! And I like having a Chris Rock, or Ellen, or Kimmel come out and say, “Hey, you’re not crazy, I saw that, too, and it was crazy!” It’s the whole, “I wonder what the host will say about that,” aspect.
But, last night, after every memorable moment, those moments just disappeared. A good host knows how to frame and keep those moments going. And, last night, that’s what was missing.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.