Seth MacFarlane might host next year's Academy Awards. And he might not. And it's too early to talk about it … except that the Academy has set things in motion and can only stop the speculation by picking a host six months earlier than they've ever picked a host before.
It started last week, when Academy president Hawk Koch announced that producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have been hired to produce the 86th Oscars next March, making them the first producers to handle consecutive shows since Gil Cates did it in 2005 and 2006.
The move came less than two months after Zadan's and Meron's first Oscar show was lambasted by many critics but received strong ratings, becoming the highest-rated show in three years and the second in eight years to top 40 million viewers. Even more crucially, it saw an increase of 20 percent in the 18-to-34 demographic.
The April announcement of the producers broke with Oscar tradition, in which hiring producers is typically the first priority of the new AMPAS president, who assumes office in August. And Koch's decision to deny his successor that opportunity drew some criticism – though several years ago the Board of Governors had quietly but formally authorized Academy presidents to look for producers before the end of their terms.
Another Oscar tradition is that as soon as a new producer is hired, Job No. 1 is to find a host – so no sooner had Zadan and Meron been announced than speculation began to swirl around MacFarlane.
The week after he hosted, MacFarlane responded to a question on Twitter asking if he'd return if asked with a flat, "No way. Lotta fun to have done it though."
But last Thursday, celebrity news website JustJared cited an anonymous source close to MacFarlane to claim that the comic-actor-writer had been asked to return. Two days later, Deadline said their anonymous sources insisted that MacFarlane had not been asked. And two days after that, Deadline said never mind, he had been asked.
Meanwhile, MacFarlane's reps declined to comment, as did Zadan, Meron and Koch. The Academy released a statement: "Given the fact that we just confirmed Craig Zadan and Neil Meron to produce, we understand how people might speculate in that fashion, but it's really way too early to have any idea who our host might be in 2014."
Yes, April 2013 is way too early to speculate about who might host a show on March 2, 2014.
But no, the week after the announcement of the show's producers is not too early to wonder.
Amid all the noise, it's clear that the quick selection of Zadan and Meron was an endorsement of the show they produced. And it was always a no-brainer that the pair would at least reach out to MacFarlane, and that if he felt inclined to raise eyebrows and offend sensibilities one more time, the job was his.
Continuity is reportedly the key word in all of this – a desire to return to the continuity the Oscars had back when Cates produced six shows in a row, and 14 over a 19-year period, and the continuity they had when Crystal hosted four times in a row and six times in eight years in the 1990s.
But have the Oscars really lost the continuity they used to have? Don Mischer, the dean of awards-show producers and directors, has directed the last three shows, and produced two of them (with Bruce Cohen and Brian Grazer). Michael Seligman has been the show's top moneyman for more than 30 years, and Dannette Herman the top talent executive for as long. (In what seemed to be a power play of sorts, she was handed a consultant's role in 2011, but promptly given her old job back the following year.)
The Oscars fairly reek of continuity – with the same 24 awards handed out every year, with a format that allows for relatively little change and with the same crew of assistant directors, stage managers, camera operators and dozens of others back year after year.
(Memo to the board: If you really want to embrace continuity, then persuade stage manager Dency Nelson, the last person nearly every star has seen before walking onstage for the past 20 years, not to go through with his announced retirement from the Oscars.)
And on a creative level, the most successful recent producers have been the ones who paid the least attention to continuity: Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, who turned the formidable trick of making the Academy Awards seem fresh in 2009.
Of course, the Condon/Mark show didn't top 40 million viewers (blame the movies, not the producers), so now continuity becomes the buzzword that allows the Academy to bring back the guys, and maybe the host, whose show landed those 18-to-34-year-old eyes.
So maybe MacFarlane will be the new Billy Crystal, and maybe he'll even convert those of us who weren't enamored of his initial stint. (It's worth noting how effectively the Golden Globes used Ricky Gervais' notoriety by bringing him back twice and playing up the angle, "What will he say this year?")
And maybe Zadan and Meron will be the new Gil Cateses, taking the reins of the Oscar show again and again.
If so, MacFarlane might want to think twice about playing hard to get. Crystal repeatedly refused Cates' offers to return as host in 1993, holding out until the producer sent him a stuffed horse's head, ala the famous scene in "The Godfather."
Is the stuffed star of MacFarlane's "Ted," whose sequel is on the fast track at Universal, safe from Zadan and Meron if Seth says no?