Oscar night: More music, more edge


The Academy Award show is Sunday (Feb. 24), promising more music and more comic edge. I'm sending a batch of stories to papers; here's the first one:

By MIKE HUGHES

As soon as its producers were chosen,
one thing was clear: This year's Academy Award show will re-discover
music.

Alongside that, however, came a
surprise: The show's comedy attitude is changing, too.

Seth MacFarlane, the new host, said
viewers can expect something a little like his movie “Ted” and
his Fox cartoons. They “attempt to walk a line between the classic
and the edgy..”

He's flashed that style before, at:

– A cable roast. MacFarlane pretended
to read Charlie Sheen's advance obituary, then said he had simply
used Amy Winehouse's obit, needing only two adjustments: He changed
the gender and took out the part that said “a great artist who will
be missed.”

– The Oscar-nominations
announcements. When the international “Amour” was read, he said:
“The last time Austria and Germany got together and produced
something, it was Hitler.”

That's a departure from the mainstream
approaches of some past Oscar hosts. MacPharlane, 39, “is relevant
to an audience today,” said co-producer Neil Meron. “(He is) kind
of a post-millennium host.”

Comedy isn't really what Meron and
producing colleague Craig Zadan are known for. Music is.

Back when networks ignored musicals,
this duo made four of them for TV or cable. When movie musicals
vanished, they made “Hairspray” and the Oscar-winning “Chicago.”
Now they're helping produce NBC's “Smash,” with original songs,
and they're nudging music back into the Oscar-ceremony.

In some years, producers have smushed
all five nominated songs into a meager medley; last year, a rule
change left only two nominated songs.

This year's ceremony has five nominated
songs, plus divas. Adele sings the “Skyfall” theme, which she
co-wrote; Norah Jones sings “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” the
“Ted” song MacFarlane co-wrote. Barbra Streisand and Shirley
Bassey will be there, apparently to sing “The Way We Were “ and
to be part of a 50th-anniversary tribute to James Bond movies.

More will be coming and there will be a
tribute to movie musicals of the 2000s, focusing on “Chicago”
(with its stars showing up), “Dreamgirls” and “Les Miserables.”

This year's show will include lots of
past winners, especially the ones that look good in gowns – Halle
Berry, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon. The
“Avengers” stars will be there; so will Mark Wahlberg, along with
the title character from “Ted.”

MacFarlane did Ted's voice in the
movie, so he may be the first person to simultaneously be an Oscar
host, nominee AND presenter.

And maybe more. While producing three
Fox cartoons – “Family Guy,” “American Dad,” “Clevelaand
Show” – MacFarlane also has obsessed on the Oscars. Meron said
he has been there “collaborating with ... the designers, the
writers, every aspect …. Don (Mischer) was saying to us, 'I've
never seen this in all of the years I've been directing award
shows.'”

He'll do all of that while thinking of
jokes that may or may not include Hitler and Amy Winehouse.