On Friday morning, comedian Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting this year’s Oscars after 7-year-old homophobic tweets surfaced. By now, debacles such as this are sad and predictable, but this one is also illustrative of the Oscars’ ever-increasing irrelevance.
Finding a host for the Oscars has become near-impossible, and until announcing Hart last week, the Academy had been desperate. With little more than two months to go, no other star was willing to sign on. A recent Hollywood Reporter column assailed hosting the Oscars as “a gig that almost no one should want” and reported that of two-time hosts Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock, most have said they’d never do it again.
Why would they? A dirty secret of Hollywood’s most glamorous and important night: Hosts are paid a pittance — in 2017, Jimmy Kimmel said his pay was $15,000. (ABC charged $2.6 million for 30-second ads during 2018’s telecast — half of what that year’s Super Bowl got.)
“I think it’s illegal to pay nothing,” Kimmel said during an interview in KROQ that year. “I’m not sure I was supposed to reveal this, but nobody told me not to … They asked like 14 people, and they all said no, and then there was me.”
Kimmel said he knew that Chris Rock and Billy Crystal — who last hosted in 2012 — were paid the same amount to work for at least six weeks, sometimes with their own writing staff, to craft material that is somehow funny yet toothless, designed not to puncture a single ego in the room. It’s a decades-long prediction and criticism: The Oscars ceremony is too long. It’s boring. Yet year after year, as ratings fall and irrelevance rises, the Academy refuses to modernize or truncate the show, insisting it just can’t be done. Why not? It’s not colonizing Mars. It’s famous, rich, beautiful people celebrating other famous, rich, beautiful people. Why do the Oscars even need a host? We’re in a fully automated age anyway.
Perhaps the Academy is still scarred from the last hostless ceremony, back in 1989, when Rob Lowe opened the show singing “Proud Mary” with an actress playing Snow White. It was, to paraphrase producer Scott Rudin, a camp event nonpareil, and led to 17 screen legends, Paul Newman and Gregory Peck among them, signing an open letter calling the ceremony “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.”