With Eddie Murphy stepping down as the host of next year's Oscars after producer Brett Ratner resigned, old hand Billy Crystal has been tapped to act as Master of Ceremonies at the biggest Hollywood bash of the year. But... why? Do the Oscars really need a host in the traditional sense?
I know that the idea of the Oscars without a host seems somewhat sacrilegious - Who will do the skit at the opening that makes everyone feel good about the movies? - but, more than other awards shows, the Oscars don't really need to have a host around, no matter how talented Crystal may be. I mean, let's face it: with the exception of the opening, the host is barely present for the show, because other people come on to hand out the awards and introduce the nominees; the host's entire role is just to provide laughs and maybe a few songs during set changes and lulls in the action, and try to distract people from the fact that they're watching an exceptionally long, self-congratulatory advertisement for movies they've probably already seen.
(Actually, when you think of the job like that, suddenly the online swell to get the Muppets as hosts makes a lot more sense: Comedy and music? That's exactly what they do, and they do it better than most. Work out some way to get them onstage without it looking ridiculous, and that could actually work really well.)
Crystal may have done a fine job doing that kind of thing in the past, but what I'd rather see from the Oscars producers is an admission that the Oscars is a show, and see what are considered the traditional "host" duties split between multiple people. Farm the opening skit editing together lots of movie clips from the last year to, say, the Onion team while you bring in Kristin Schaal, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver to do monologues and distractions throughout the show (Quite why I'm apparently obsessed with fake news people for these jobs, I have no idea). All you really need beyond that is to have Neil Patrick Harris or Hugh Jackman show up at some point to sing a comedy song that works in the titles of the Best Picture nominees, and that's your "hosting" duties all taken care of, right?
Undoubtedly, there are people who'll see Eddie Murphy dropping out right now as a bad sign for next year's show, because of the "prestige" involved in the position and whatever controversy such a resignation means. But to those people, I just have five words to say to remind you how wrong that idea is in this day and age: James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Also, let's be honest: Billy Crystal? Really? I love City Slickers and The Princess Bride as much as the next man - Actually, maybe a little more in the latter case - but he's done the job eight times already, first doing it more than twenty years ago. There's more than a little bit of throwing your hands up in the air and admitting that you've given up trying to appeal to "the kids" with his selection as replacement.
That said, maybe they're right to look to the past. After all, there may have been a Golden Age of Oscar Hosts, an era where year after year, you could rely upon whoever's wearing the tux and cracking wise to offer quality jollity that couldn't be beaten at any other time of the year, but seriously, when was the last time you could say that and really mean it (Ironically, maybe when Crystal was doing the job on a regular basis)? Crystal's selection as replacement feels like a Hail Mary, a "We don't have any time to break anyone else in" move. What I want to see for the 2013 Academy Awards, in that case, is an admission that the time of the Oscar Host is over, and that it's time to use this "problem" as an opportunity to rethink what is actually needed to make watching the Oscars more entertaining and, considering its length, survivable. Variety is the spice of life, people. Maybe the Oscars should think about that when considering who should be the Eddie Murphys of the future.