The two biggest broadcast events of the year have once again come and gone. The first broke ratings records and the second actually saw a slight uptick from its performance in 2011, so nobody is going to pay very much attention to hindsight criticism. But that doesn’t change the feeling of general disappointment that followed NBC’s telecast of Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 and ABC’s presentation of the 84th Academy Awards last Sunday.
Regarding the Super Bowl, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots delivered a great game, and NBC mounted a technically dazzling telecast overall. But for industry purposes it was the ads that mattered, and there wasn’t a truly memorable or breathtakingly original commercial in the bunch. Most of them are already forgotten!
The viral success of so many ads online, some of them running two minutes or longer, indicates that people appreciate commercials if they offer entertainment value along with their messages. But the only value to be had from the dozens of breaks that were crammed into this year’s Super Bowl telecast was the many opportunities they provided to check out the annual “Puppy Bowl” on Animal Planet without missing any of the action in Indianapolis. Interestingly, the ads from JCPenney starring Ellen DeGeneres that debuted during the Oscar telecast were much more engaging than any of the spots that made their television debuts during the big game.
As for the Academy Awards, which remain helplessly dependent on the effectiveness of their host, I felt that Billy Crystal wasn’t as funny or as appealing as I remember him being in past Oscar gigs. I was far more impressed by actor and comedian Stephen Fry as host of the Orange British Academy Film Awards, or BAFTAs, on BBC America three weeks ago. He was classy and captivating and remained in full command of the stage at all times (even when Meryl Streep lost one of her stilettos and almost tipped over while climbing the steps to accept her award for “The Iron Lady”). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences could do worse than consider Fry as a future host.
Here’s another terrific BAFTA thing: The show opened with a sensational performance by Tom Jones, on hand to sing the theme song from the James Bond flick “Thunderball” in honor of that lucrative movie franchise’s 50th anniversary, an occasion that went ignored by the Academy. Why does musical entertainment continue to flummox producers of Oscar (and Emmy) telecasts? (And why did they think the home audience would be endlessly fascinated by actors prattling on about their favorite movies? James Franco sleep-walking through his gig last year as Oscar co-host was more interesting than that!)
As has often been the case, the most entertaining element of ABC’s Oscar-night festivities was the short film on the annual special presentation of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” that always follows the Academy Awards. (Remember the big fun of Kimmel’s “I’m F*cking Ben Affleck,” the all-star 2008 Oscar night follow-up to Sarah Silverman’s “I’m F*cking Matt Damon”? How about the “Handsome Men’s Club” from his 2010 Oscar show?) Titled “Movie: The Movie,” and featuring appearances by over 30 stars (including Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Chewbacca), it spoofed the hundreds of formulaic, big-budget, over-marketed mainstream Hollywood movies that frequently fill multiplexes. It was more enjoyable than the filmed piece starring Crystal that opened the Awards.
Also worth noting on last Sunday’s edition of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” was a segment in which special guest Oprah Winfrey’s admitted that it’s difficult coming up with good ideas for compelling programs on her new network, prompting Kimmel to run footage of a recent pitch meeting with Winfrey in which he suggested ideas for new series that might work on OWN. They included “Oprah Repos Her Favorite Things,” in which cameras follow Winfrey as she hits the homes of audience guests from her famous “Favorite Things” shows and takes back their treasures; “The Jimmy & Oprah Interview,” in which the two talk over each other to get their guests’ attention; and the self-explanatory (and comically ultra-violent) “Oprah’s Book Club Fight Club.”
Kimmel’s riotously funny routines at ABC’s presentations have since 2005 been the comic highlight of many an upfront week; maybe it’s time to give him a shot at similarly livening up the Academy Awards as host. If he brought his own writers, he would undoubtedly fare better than David Letterman or Jon Stewart, two New York City-based talk show hosts who famously seemed out of place on the Oscar stage. Kimmel is rooted in Los Angeles and would know exactly how to harpoon Hollywood. More than that, I think he would likely understand that his primary role would be to entertain the millions of people watching at home, rather than the 3,000 people sitting in the theater formerly known as the Kodak.
Some may say that Kimmel isn’t “big” enough to handle the Academy Awards. I say just ask the huge stars who have appeared on his post-Oscar programs and get back to me.