For The Love Of God, Bring Back The Oscar Host

At Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony there was a great moment when Daniel Kaluuya, accepting his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, made a reference to his parents having sex. Then the camera cut to Kaluuya’s mom who was making the perfect, “What on Earth?” face. It’s just one of those moments that can’t be planned and is a big reason, over the years, that people like watching the Oscars. Hey, anything can happen! But, unfortunately, there was, again, no host at this year’s ceremony so it was left up to Twitter to make the jokes. This is because, without a trained and skilled host, we are left with presenters who are reading from a script they’ve already rehearsed. There’s no room for them to come on screen and even make a reference to what we, the audience, just saw. (And the truth is we probably don’t want presenters going off script because if they don’t know what they’re doing, well that could be its own disaster.) I kept imagining a world where, I dunno, Chris Rock comes back on stage with a big smile and starts bantering with Kaluuya’s mom about what happened. To really memorialize this great thing that just happened. Instead, the show stuck to the script like it never happened. And then there’s that ending … oof. We’ll get to that.

Last night’s Oscars looked pretty enough under the circumstances and some of the speeches were good. But everything in between the speeches seemed robotic. Too planned. There was not a sense that anything could happen, which kind of goes against the reason why people like watching live television in the first place. And, look, we’ve all been sitting around the last year trying to avoid the plague, would it have been the worst thing to have someone who is a trained host to come on and do what the best hosts do: guide the audience through and be the cipher for the audience. That’s why people liked Billy Crystal, he somehow seemed both excited to be there but also wasn’t opposed to taking the proceedings down a couple of pegs when it got too stuffy. So, yeah, it would have been nice just to have a constant person there to say, “Yeah, this has been a tough year, but maybe let’s try to have a little fun tonight, what do you say?” Instead, between the speeches, we got more speeches. These host-less Oscars just have no personality. And it stood out even more this year because the production desperately wanted us to think that it did have a personality.

(Also, as an aside, with getting people together being limited, wouldn’t this have been the year to do a grand death montage? With a bunch of great clips of all these people in their primes? This should have been a 10-minute segment! Instead, it was presented as if someone hit fast forward on the old VHS tape.)

So, here’s one big problem: No one wants to host the Oscars. I did a little snooping around about why this is and the consensus seems to be it’s a no-win situation. Anyone who hosts now knows in the weeks leading up to the show people will be looking through their history. It’s a pretty heavy layer of scrutiny. And even for people who have not made any serious mistakes in the past don’t seem to like the idea of going through a public background check. And, from what I heard, the salary for the host is surprisingly low. (I want to be clear, it’s a decent amount of money for you or me, but for a famous person who will be subjected to weeks of scorn, it seems low.) So the Academy is still trying to hire a host pretty much based on “prestige” alone, even though there’s not much prestige left with this gig. Any comedian at that level (in normal times) could do a two-week stand in Vegas and make a lot more money. So what’s the incentive? “Hey what if you made a lot less money for doing a lot of work and, oh, most likely everyone will hate you. So, what do you say?”

Obviously, the Academy has to come to the realization that its prime gig doesn’t have the cache that it used to. Which means they can’t continue to pay hosts on mostly prestige alone. They are going to have to actually pay people who are good a lot of money to make this thing work again.

Also, about that ending last night. What a mess. Look, this has nothing to do with Anthony Hopkins winning and, actually, what the Oscars did kind of screwed him over. A few hours before the show when it was announced Best Actor would be the last award given out, I just assumed, since it’s a weird year anyway, maybe the secretive protocols were dropped at the powers that be were tipped off that Chadwick Boseman had won. Because the production really went “all in” on Boseman winning and the show ending on a touching and well-deserved tribute to his life. And the thing is, maybe the thought was also, even if Boseman didn’t win, well, whoever wins will obviously say some nice words about Boseman.

Instead, Joaquin Phoenix read Anthony Hopkins’s name, who wasn’t there to accept, then Phoenix skedaddled off stage as quickly as possible. Guess what … there’s no host, so there’s no one to run up to the microphone to say anything. It just ended on a thud. Imagine if the La La Land, Moonlight year didn’t have a host. We at home would have seen a huddle, then a quick announcement that Moonlight had won and that would have been it, with no one to explain what just happened.

I always love Jimmy Kimmel’s retelling of that story, as he’s in the audience to do a bit with Matt Damon to close the show and Damon says to him, “someone should go up there and explain what’s happening,” and it hit Kimmel, “Oh, I guess that’s me.” But, last night there wasn’t anyone to say “I guess that’s me.” No one to say, “Hey, before we go, he may not have won, but let me say a few words about Chadwick Boseman.” Instead, we just got the thud.

Anyway, enough of this: bring back the Oscar host and also make it worth their while to do it.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.