We are a little over a month away from the 85th Academy Awards on ABC. As the biggest entertainment awards ceremony of the year, all eyes will be on the event itself--with an awful lot of scrutiny heaped on this year's host, Seth McFarlane.
The hosts of the Oscars are always put under a microscope to an absurd degree by the media; some hosts hold up under this careful scrutiny, while others buckle under the pressure. Here's TVRage's list of the best and worst Oscar hosts of the past two decades!
(Why cut the list off at 1990? Well I would like nothing more than to opine here about how Jack Benny was a superior host to Bob Hope in every way back in 1944, but for the consideration of our readership I am going to save you that boring rant! Let's stick with hosts from within all of our lifetimes.)
Who stands out in your mind when you think of Oscar hosts? Chances are, if they're memorable it was because they did an excellent job. The hosts that flounder tend to fade in our memories--unless they were truly terrible. Let's start out with the Worst Hosts since 1990: do any of these appear in your memory for good or bad reasons?
1995: David Letterman
It pains me to write this, because I am a huge fan of Dave Letterman's 'Late Show' on CBS, but Letterman's turn as host of the Academy Awards was a disaster. It's possible that his peculiar brand of comedy plays better on a smaller stage (or at least a more relaxed setting), but Letterman's jokes at the Oscars largely fell flat back in 1995. Those who caught the broadcast are likely groaning at the moment as they recall the lengthy "Uma? Meet Oprah!" gag that poor Letterman beat into the ground. It is also possible that not everyone in the Academy Awards audience was willing to accept jabs from a television host who isn't known for feature film work in Hollywood. Regardless, Letterman is the first person to admit that his hosting of the Oscars was a flop, as many future hosts would come on his show and pick his brain about what not to do when they're on stage.
2007: Ellen Degeneres
This is another case of a fantastic comedian coming up short on the grand stage of the Academy Awards. While Degeneres is the funniest female comic I've ever seen (Wanda Sykes is a close second), her turn hosting the Oscars fell victim to a similar fate that Letterman's did: the jokes were subtle and understated and didn't really work in front of the capacity crowd. Degeneres played the role of being star-struck by members of the audience--even interrupting the broadcast for a photo with Clint Eastwood.
Sadly, the video above was likely the highlight of the night for Degeneres' hosting. To her credit, she calmed down considerably by the end of the broadcast and she very well could have a greatly improved performance had she been given a second chance at hosting since.
She certainly would have been better than...
2011: James Franco & Anne Hathaway
This was an awful pairing and perhaps the worst hosting of the Oscars in my lifetime. Franco was noticably stoned and Hathaway was scattered and terrified--and they didn't improve as the show went on.
Franco seemed gone-to-lunch and entirely disinterested in the proceedings at hand. On top of that, the jokes written for the pair seemed dull and pointless, seemingly relying on the fact that Hathaway and Franco are young, hip and gorgeous--but improvisational geniuses they aint.
Feel free to share your favorite groan-inducing story of this duo at the Oscars in the comments below!
Enough negativity, dammit! Let's have the Best Oscar Hosts since 1990!
1994, 1996, 1999, 2002: Whoopi Goldberg
Oh, how I love Whoopi Goldberg. Hosting the Oscars four times in our allotted span, Goldberg has proven herself to be a charming, composed and hilarious host. Perhaps most importantly, Goldberg seems to have an innate sense of when it was time to ham it up with the audience and when it was time to lay back and allow the gravitas of the moment fill the stage; at no point during her hosting does she ever put herself or her material above the Academy Awards themselves. I'm sure it helps that Goldberg won "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" at the 1991 Academy Awards--she knows what such a moment means to an actor and could host the proceedings accordingly.
Here is Goldberg's big win:
2001, 2003, 2010: Steve Martin
Notice how the 'best hosts' category each earn multiple appearances?
The hilarious Steve Martin has graced the Oscar stage three times, with the 2010 appearance coming with a co-host, Alec Baldwin. Martin is just as good with a co-star as he is on his own, offering a controlled and calm form of comedy that can only come from decades of live stage performances. Upon leaving 'Saturday Night Live' years ago, Martin said in an interview that, as a comedian, you can never be afraid to die; the thought of a joke falling flat and your act bombing is ever-present, and as such you have to let the fear of it go, the way we try not to think about our own mortality each and every time we walk out the door. Martin's Oscar performances show a man not afraid to die: he is perfectly composed in his jokes, even when they are ill-received.
Famously, Martin made a crack about Russell Crowe hitting on a female co-star and was met by a steely, dirty stare from Crowe in response. How did Martin handle the awkward moment? He ad-libbed "Well don't worry, I think we stay on opposite sides of the stage" and immediately moved on. His poise is unflappable as a host.
Give full credit to Baldwin as well for an excellent turn co-hosting with Martin in 2010. For me, the most memorable line Martin ever had as an Oscar host was his closing line in 2003:
"For me, hosting the Oscars is a lot like making love to a woman: I only ever get to do it when Billy Crystal is out of town."
Billy Crystal has hosted the Academy Awards NINE TIMES since 1990, with any of the nine appearances acting like a clinic on how to host a ceremony. The man is hilarious, respectful, dignified--and he just may be the most charismatic man alive.
There are honestly too many excellent Billy Crystal Academy Awards moments for me to recall in this space: so I turn it over to you, dear TVRagers. What is your favorite Billy Crystal moment at the Oscars?
Well there you have it: some very big shoes for Seth McFarlane to fill come February 24, as well as a handful of cautionary tales. How do you think McFarlane will fare on the grand stage?
Favorite Billy Crystal moment?
Absolutely without a doubt his session with Jack Palance. The moment you saw Jack perform one-handed push-ups onstage, you just knew you were in for something special that night. One of Billy's comments, "Jack Palance was just seen fathering sixteen children... on the Moon", and Jack's comment, "I crap bigger than Billy Crystal".
Level 2 (40%) Points: 4.4 Since: 20/Apr/08
Message Posted On Jan 10th, 2013, 8:15 am
I think your review and conventional wisdom about Letterman's stint are wrong, but I haven't rewatched the show since it aired. Letterman loves to say it sucked, but he says that about everything he does.