Oscar's Makeover

Ten modest proposals for juicing up the Academy Awards' annual snooze-fest

Published March 9, 1996 10:06PM (EST)

Like the Super Bowl, which is more often than not a really bad football game, the Oscars usually make for some of the most yawn-inducing
TV imaginable.

I used to think that nobody took the Academy Awards seriously, that
people mainly watched the show to make fun of Hollywood's pomposity and
self-adoration, heckle the fashion mistakes and throw popcorn at the TV
during the tacky production numbers. My favorite Oscar-casts of the eight I
reviewed as TV critic for the San Francisco Examiner were the 1989 Academy
Awards, which live in infamy as the Beach Blanket
Oscars, and the 1995 telecast, a.k.a David Letterman Lays an
Egg. The way I saw it, both the Beach Blanket Babylon show -- filled with
riotous gay camp and climaxed by Rob Lowe and Snow White singing a salute
to Hollywood -- and the Dave Oscars, in which Letterman turned the ceremonies
into a three-and-a-half-hour version of "Late Show" -- were refreshingly irreverent tweaks of an unforgivably starchy institution.

Evidently, I was alone in my opinion.

Oh, the letters and phone calls I received, all basically demanding my
head on a platter for needling a national treasure, for aiding and abetting
Mr. Letterman and his ilk in their assault on taste, decorum and all the
other things that went to the grave with Audrey Hepburn. British royalists
have nothing on American Oscarists.

So it is with an unfamiliar lightness of heart that I approach Monday,
March 25, Oscar night. No longer obligated to watch the damn thing, I plan
to spend the night dancing a jig and maybe reading a good book. But
because I care so very deeply for the comfort of those Oscarphiles out
there, I have a few small suggestions that might make for a livelier

The Super Bowl of Movies deserves a Super Bowl-caliber half-time
show. Picture this: Michael Jackson singing a "Wizard of Oz"/"The Wiz"
medley with 200 little orphan boys of many lands dressed in Munchkin
costumes while Liz Taylor floats down from the rafters inside a bubble as
Good Witch Glinda. Now, that's entertainment!

Bigger and better commercials. During the weeks leading up to Super
Sunday, TV was crawling with teasers promising lavish new Super Bowl
commercials for Budweiser, Tostitos and other products. How many people
watched the game just to see which star of "Friends" drank the Diet Coke?
The Motion Picture Academy has never fully exploited such advertising
tie-ins. Why not start this year with "Bud Bowl XI: The Budweiser Frogs vs. Babe the Talking Pig"? And, come to think of it, doesn't the
"Goobers/Raisinets Academy Awards" have a nice ring to it?

ABC borrows the computer-enhanced puck idea from Fox's recent NHL
All-Star Game. This year, audience shots are enlivened by glowing blue
disks that dart around the screen covering seats left empty by stars
getting up to go to the bathroom.

Winners are allotted 30 seconds for speeches. If they do not comply,
the Oscar will be revoked and handed to the nominee who deserved to win in
the first place.

Scrap scheduled host Whoopi Goldberg (she's no Letterman). Replace
her with Lucien Callow and Fagin, the obsequious, powdered-wigged fops from
"Saturday Night Live." This way, Oscarphiles will feel that the stars are
given a proper foot-kissing.

Require Mel Gibson to attend in a kilt.

Half-time inspiration! Mel Gibson. Babe. Australian Pig Tossing!
(Check with pig's agent -- will he work for scale?)

Retire the opening Chuck Workman movie-history montage (Keystone
Kops, Bette Davis in "Jezebel," Gene Kelly and the dancing mouse, "Ben
Hur," "E.T.," Mel Gibson in kilt). Substitute blooper reel hosted by Bob
Saget (Keystone Kops walk through take in orderly fashion, Heston's horse
runs wrong way, Mel Gibson loses safety pin from kilt).

To play up the movies-as-family-entertainment angle, replace the
usual performances of nominated songs with Celebrity Animal Karaoke --
Babe, Eddie the Dog from "Frasier," Marcel the Monkey from
"Friends," Willy. Note to producers: See if Mr. Ed will come out
of retirement if offered the Springsteen song from "Dead Man Walking."

New Oscar drinking game: Every time "Braveheart" wins an award,
take one sip, put one dime in Oscar pool. Every time "Sense and
Sensibility" wins an award, take two sips, remove one quarter from the
Oscar pool. Every time someone mentions talking pigs, capital punishment
or Republican presidential contenders, chug contents of glass. Eventually,
pass out on floor, have dream about Pat Buchanan roasting on spit.

By Joyce Millman

Joyce Millman is a writer living in the Bay Area.

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