Ben Sherwood: ABC is ‘Very Hopeful’ That Jimmy Kimmel Will Host Oscars

Cynthia Littleton

Disney/ABC Television Group chief Ben Sherwood has given a big endorsement to Jimmy Kimmel serving as the host of the next Academy Awards telecast.

During a Q&A Thursday night at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, Sherwood also broached the subject of considering different Emmy categories for TV series based on the number of episodes produced per season. And he spoke about the challenges that ABC News and other news organizations face in trying to cover politics at a time when the electorate is so polarized that there are “no commonly agreed upon set of facts” up for discussion.

In his hourlong conversation with ABC News correspondent Nick Watt, Sherwood said ABC execs felt Kimmel, host of the Alphabet’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” late-night franchise, did a great job on Sunday’s Emmy Awards telecast and that he has demonstrated that he has the chops to host the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26. However, Sherwood emphasized that the decision on the Oscarcast host and producing team rests with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“We thought Jimmy elevated the Emmys. We thought Jimmy has earned it and we’re very hopeful that Jimmy will get it,” Sherwood said of the Oscars. Once AMPAS leaders settle on their choices for the coming telecast, “the Academy will come back to us and let us know what they are thinking,” he said.

Last month, renewed its telecast deal with AMPAS for the Oscars through 2028, extending a partnership that has endured for more than 40 years. Sherwood said the new deal gives ABC more creative input in the production of the telecast. The network sought more involvement in an effort “to make sure that the show was as relevant and fresh and modern as possible,” Sherwood said.

Pressed by Watt, Sherwood acknowledged that ratings for major awards shows have been in decline; despite strong reviews for Kimmel, Sunday’s Emmy Awards, which aired on ABC, hit a new low in viewership. For the Oscars, Sherwood suggested that AMPAS voters need to embrace more mainstream fare than they have in the past. “It’s incumbent on the Academy to nominate movies that excite people,” he said.

Sherwood also said the new Oscar rights pact gives ABC more flexibility regarding advertising sales in the Oscar telecast and distribution of the show. He said the changes were made to ensure that ABC can still make a profit off the show “in the event the business changes in ways we can’t anticipate,” but he didn’t elaborate. The Oscar telecast historically has had strict restrictions on the nature of ads that studios can buy in the three-hour live telecast.

As for the Emmys, Sherwood expressed the frustrations of many broadcast TV executives who have watched as lightly viewed cable and now streaming programs consistently dominate the Emmy race.

“It’s tough for us in broadcast to see our competitors who are playing a different game — it’s tough to see them sweeping awards that for decades were won by broadcast television when we were the only game in town,” he said.

Sherwood said he feels the number of episodes produced per season makes a big difference in how programs should be judged, whether it’s the broadcast standard of 22-24 or 10-13 for cable and streaming. He used a track and field metaphor, noting that some runners train to compete in a 100 meters race and some compete in a 400 meters race. “It’s a different event that requires a different set of athletic abilities,” he said.

At the same time, Sherwood said he welcomes the creative challenge presented by the array of worthy shows airing across the dial these days. It energizes the ABC team to “make great stuff ourselves” and to strive for “bolder and even better programs to appeal to even broader audiences.”

Not surprisingly, Sherwood was asked about the adjustment to the vast changes in viewing habits and the delivery of TV programming.

“Our business is changing,” he said. “We are no longer the high priests that make decisions about what people will watch and when they will watch.” He called himself a “realistic optimist” who has a very clear goal for his division, which includes ABC, ABC Studios, Disney Channels Worldwide and Freeform.

“We now have the ability to get our stories into every person’s pocket on Earth,” he said, citing the rise of mobile viewing on smartphones.

Watt joked at the outside of the Q&A that he had the tough assignment of interviewing “my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss.” But he raised the question of whether the news media has failed the American public with inadequate reporting on the presidential race and the positions staked out by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican challenger, Donald Trump. Sherwood argued that the extremely bitter divide among Clinton and Trump supporters has made it hard to analyze issues and proposals in a way that will be perceived as objective.

“There’s one set of facts on one side, there’s another set of facts on the other side,” he said. “One side simply says ‘These are the facts, these are the facts. We don’t believe your facts, our facts are true.’ ”

Sherwood stressed that ABC News has done a host of investigative stories on both candidates and has pressed them both in interviews.

“The question is not have we failed in our duty to ask questions and present this information,” he said. “There are lots of reasons we are here today (facing criticism). I don’t believe it’s simply or only a matter of the media not doing its job.”

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