Oscars So Slow: ABC Plays Waiting Game as Academy Mulls Producer Options

Daniel Holloway

Jimmy Kimmel, by many accounts, did a bang-up job as host of the Emmys Sunday — bang-up enough to spark speculation that he could host the Academy Awards in February. At the Governor’s Ball immediately following the Emmys and in the days after, ABC executives expressed optimism that Kimmel’s performance would find favor with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has final say on Oscars production decisions. The timing is perfect. The network that the late-night host has called home since 2003 just renewed its contract to broadcast the Oscars through 2028. ABC has claimed, without offering specifics, that the agreement gives it greater creative input in the film-awards telecast. And the deal provides the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a welcome long-term financial commitment, for which it is no doubt grateful. So with so many factors in his favor, why hasn’t Kimmel been named Oscars host already?

Mostly because no one has offered him the job. In fact, the person who would offer him, or any other potential host, the job, has yet to be hired.

With October just over a week away, no producer for the 89th annual Academy Awards telecast, which will take place on Feb. 26, has been named. That puts the Academy, which selects the producer, well behind recent timelines. Last year, producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin were in place on Sept. 1, more than two weeks ahead of the Emmys. The year prior, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan had begun building sets by August.

The delay has caused some consternation at ABC, where executives would like to see the key issues of producer and host settled, sources tells Variety. No discussions with Kimmel’s camp about the host gig have occurred, and there has been no indication from the Academy of when a producer will be named. ABC has not even seen the Academy float a list of candidates for the producing gig yet.

Network insiders are certainly happy with the job that producer Don Mischer did on the Emmys telecast, and would be happy to work with him again. But Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is not believed to be a fan of the veteran live-event producer, whose experience would seem to make him a natural and steady choice. Hudlin, a film producer, was seen as a bad fit and out of his depth last year, while Hill, who has the skill set suited for the live telecast, is unlikely to be asked back either. In the past, the Academy has flirted with pairing a splashy celebrity producer such as Oprah Winfrey or Tom Hanks with a more experienced hand as a way to drum up interest in the show, but has never been able to seal such a deal.

Spokespeople for the Academy and ABC declined to comment for this story.

As the Academy weighs its options, the clock ticks. Chris Rock was announced as the previous Oscars host on Oct. 21 of last year. Neil Patrick Harris was announced the year prior on Oct. 15. Other staffing and production decisions are also on hold — a stark contrast to last year, when Hill and Hudlin were several weeks on the job by this point, or the three years prior, when Meron and Zadan enjoyed a long run as producers of the show, providing it with rare continuity.

The Academy has in the past been even slower to pick its producers — waiting as late as Oct. 21 to announce Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic for the 82nd Academy Awards. But that was seven years ago. The demands of making a three-hour-plus live television program have only grown since then. The producers of the 2017 Oscars could use as much time as they can get to lay the groundwork for the show, particularly coming off back-to-back years of ratings declines. ABC would certainly like to see that trend reversed, with the network paying close to $75 million per year for broadcast rights under its current agreement. Having a producer in place would ease growing anxiousness at the network. Finding a host — in a perfect world, one who’s already on the network’s air five nights a week — wouldn’t hurt either.

— Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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