The Oscars will introduce a Best Popular Movie category in a few years, mostly for reasons having to do with poor ratings and the commercial interests of its network partner, ABC. The reaction to this news has been almost universally critical, with some pointing out that the money and public acclaim a popular movie earns is its own reward and others pointing out how… let’s say convenient it is that a Disney-owned entity is pushing for a new award that will benefit movie franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which are also owned by Disney. It’s all a little messy and corporate and seems to defeat the purpose of awarding projects based on artistic merit.
Luckily, there is a much simpler answer to the ratings problem. A cleaner one that doesn’t further blur the lines between art and commerce. One that will have viewers glued to their screens for the entire broadcast, regardless of the box office success of the nominated films.
We release a live tiger into the building at the beginning of the ceremony.
Now, I hear you. You’re saying “But Brian, I don’t think that’s safe. Won’t that put our most treasured stars of the silver screen in peril?” Well, you’re right. It’s not and it will. That’s the point. The whole world will be watching in a state of fear and perverse excitement, wondering if the monologue will be interrupted by a giant cat of prey leaping into frame. And the acceptance speeches will be wild. “I’d like to thank the Academy and, of course, all the men and women who worked on thOH GOD TIMOTHEE IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU STAY STILL.” Riveting television.
But here’s the twist, because the knowledge that an unseen beast is lurking just off-camera could wear thin without some sort of developing action: Every year, one of the nominees is tasked with attempting to trap the tiger during the ceremony. And they won’t know who it is until they’re seated. At the beginning of the show, before the monologue, everyone will be instructed to reach under their seats and remove the envelope taped to the bottom of the cushion. If it contains a picture of a tiger, guess what: It’s now your job to find and trap the tiger to protect everyone else in attendance.
Oh, and the tracker will be selected at random, too. We’ll just shuffle the envelopes up real good and have the staff slap them under every seat. One year it could be Meryl Streep. The next it could be the husband of a woman nominated for best short film. The next it could be Matthew McConaughey, who would, I know for certain, get way into tracking the tiger. Too into it. Like we’d cut to a shot of him as the show heads into commercial — “Coming up next, Amy Adams and Denzel Washington present the award for Best Supporting Actor and Matthew McConaughey continues his pursuit of the tiger” — and he’d have the tiger cornered, with his bow tie around his forehead like a headband and the sleeves of his tuxedo shirt ripped off to reveal biceps that he appears to have oiled up for some reason, holding his jacket out as he prepares to toss it over the tiger’s head and wrestle it into submission, talking to it and saying things like “Here kitty kitty kitty.”
(If you aren’t picturing this crystal clear in your head right now, I honestly don’t know what to tell you. The best will be when we come back from commercial and he has befriended the tiger and the two of them are sitting backstage eating ribs.)
That’s the other thing. We check in on the tracking throughout the ceremony. Every now and then, the host — terrified but trying to play it cool — will be like, “Before our next category, let’s check in with this year’s Tiger Tracker, Emma Stone” and then we cut to black-and-white surveillance footage of Emma Stone looking for a tiger in a $40,000 Vera Wang dress while mumbling “I do not like this, guys” over and over into her live microphone.
People will be so invested. Viewers will sit at home on the edges of their seats, wondering if the tiger will be corralled in time or if we will lose a nominee before the night is through. And it will raise all sorts of questions, like whether we give out an Oscar for capturing the tiger or if a nominee killed by the tiger will be added to the In Memoriam that night or the next year. If we want to get people talking about the Oscars again, and get people to watch in the type of large numbers that the network would clearly prefer, there’s really no better, simpler option. I mean, unless the industry wants to do something really drastic like make more Oscar-worthy big-budget blockbusters instead of just churned-out sequels about people whomping monsters on the head.
But who wants that, right?