By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 17, 2009 at 8:28AM
Picking a producer for the Oscar telecast is the first big project facing any incoming Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president like Tom Sherak. But the process can't start before he's elected. And the new president is still learning the ropes.
The Academy's executive director Bruce Davis should know. He's watched many AMPAS presidents come and go, and knows the rhythm and pace of what has to happen each Oscar season. Last year, incumbent president Sid Ganis announced producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon on September 24. Even so, the Academy didn't announce Hugh Jackman as Oscar host until December 12. But Mark and Condon won't be coming back. "We're looking to build on the accomplishment of last year," says Davis, "but we knew they wouldn't be available this time around. We're sifting and sorting. Tom is making calls."
Any speculation about a possible host is moot until the producer is on board. Then the host will be a consensus pick among the Oscar show producer, Sherak, Davis, and ABC.
[Photos of last eyar's Oscar host Hugh Jackman and Academy executive director Bruce Davis courtesy Getty Images]
Of the possible producers, Sherak's ex-Revolution boss Joe Roth, who produced the 2005 Oscarcast with Quincy Jones, is an obvious choice because he would have the time. "It could be anybody," says Davis. "It's a long and interesting list. We know we have to get it done pretty soon. A lot of these people tend to be booked. We're moving expediently at this point. It won't necessarily be a pair again."
Davis confirms that Steven Spielberg has been asked many times, but is never available. His frequent producing partner Kathleen Kennedy's name keeps coming up, along with Laura Ziskin, who produced the show in 2002 and 2007. Gil Cates, who has produced the show 14 times, often returns after a year or two off-duty. Milk producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks and Chicago's Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who know their way around musicals, have been mentioned as well.
As for the host, specific skills are required, says Davis. "We're looking for people who have experience with live audiences," he says. "The first two rows can be very intimidating when you first walk on stage. If you're going to freeze up it's all over. You have to play to that large live audience in the hall. It doesn't have to be a comedian, but you shouldn't be so dignified that things get soporific. They should have an intelligent familiarity with the town. Johnny Carson knew the players. The list is not long of the people who would have that blend of competence and willingness to pull this off and think on their feet."
Along with Jackman, two-time host Steve Martin is at the top of my list. I'm not the only one who thought he and Tina Fey looked great together co-presenting at the Oscars. Fey could probably handle host chores on her own as well. I've always wanted to see the manic energy Robin Williams would bring; he co-hosted in 1985 with Alan Alda and Jane Fonda. He could reunite with his Comic Relief team, Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, who have done the most Academy Award duty in the last two decades, four and eight times respectively. Jon Stewart hosted twice. Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock each hosted once.
Davis confirms that Martin is on the short list. New names that have been thrown around by Oscar prognosticators include Alec Baldwin, Emmy and Tony song-and-dance man Neil Patrick Harris and Justin Timberlake. Baldwin has theater experience, but do the younger guys have the necessary gravitas?