Oscar’s Razor: The Simple Solution to Make the Oscars Run On Time

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How long have people been complaining that the Oscars are too long?
Probably since they were first telecast in 1953.
My earliest Oscar memory is watching Johnny Carson host the Oscars in 1979, and watching Robin Williams talk with Walter Lantz and Woody Woodpecker!

Then, as now, the show ran long, at 3 hours and 25 minutes, ending after 1 AM on the East Coast!
Back then, ABC broadcast the show on Mondays, usually after an hour-long Barbara Walters interview special, meaning that the show started, at the earliest, at 9 PM Eastern/8 Central. As a teen, I couldn’t understand why they didn’t start at 7…probably something in her contract.
Eventually ABC got wise and moved the ceremony to Sunday, where there are FOUR hours of prime time programming available, and very little distraction for viewers. (No date nights, school activities, or any other interruptions.)

However, they decided to waste 90 minutes of that prime time for red carpet interviews and other frivolities, not starting the show until 8:30 PM Eastern time! Which, with the typical 3:30 running time, means that the show does not end until Midnight on the East Coast! (Tonight’s telecast has the show beginning at 8.)

“Oscars too long” has been a perpetual criticism of the show, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, via their producers, has tried to scale down and compress the show to save time. (Last year, it ran 3:54.) Speeches have a time limit, indicated by blinking red lights and the orchestra playing off the recipients. This year, the Academy announced (and then retracted the idea) that four categories would be announced during commercial breaks, then having the speeches presented later in the telecast in a bid to keep the show under three hours in length.

Why is it so difficult for the Academy to present an entertaining spectacle within the allotted time? Here is my simple solution. (All times are Pacific, as the show is produced in Los Angeles.)

Start the show at 4 PM Pacific/7 PM Eastern.

Really, that’s all that needs to be done. Four hours of broadcast time is enough to fit all of the announcements, performances, remembrances, and anything else the Academy decides to include.

Here’s how I would sell it to ABC and AMPAS:

The Oscars are the Super Bowl for movie geeks.

Bars host viewing parties, fans live-tweet the results, critics throw shade on Facebook, and people share their favorite parts. It’s been a month since the Super Bowl, Valentines Day was two weeks ago and St. Patrick’s Day is two weeks away, and what else are you going to do in February that doesn’t require you to step outside? And nobody complains about the length of the Super Bowl, even though it runs about the same length.

Using the Super Bowl telecast as the template, here’s how I would program the day:

Noon – Four: Pre-game. Start with an hour or so of reviewing each category and handicapping the nominees. At Two PM, switch to the Red Carpet, and run that until 4 PM.

Four – Eight: Oscars! Plan the show for 3:30, with 30 minutes of “overtime”, just in case. The show ends early? ABC fills the remaining time with post-game interviews, commentary, and recapping the best moments of the night.

Eight – 8:30: Local newscast, maybe with a live report from the Kodak Dolby Theater.

8:30 – Ten: Jimmy Kimmel hosts a special star-studded episode of his late night talk show at his studio, which is conveniently located across the street from the Dolby Theater.

What’s ABC got planned this year? (Your mileage may vary. Consult your local listings. The following is from KABC in Los Angeles.)

  • 10:00 am – 1:00 pm: Oscars Countdown: The Red Carpet Live!
  • 1:00 – 1:30 pm: American Idol: A New Journey Begins
  • 1:30 – 3:30 pm: On the Red Carpet at the Oscars
  • 3:30 – 5:00 pm: Oscars Live on the Red Carpet
  • 5:00 – 8:00 pm: The Oscars
  • 8:00 – 10:00 pm: On the Red Carpet After the Awards (This is where the NY affiliate ends their Oscar programming, at 1:35 am Eastern time.)
  • 10:00 – 11:00 pm: Whiskey Cavalier (Pilot: Sneak Peek)
  • 11:00 – 11:35 pm: Eyewitness News 11PM
  • 11:35 – Midnight: On the Red Carpet After Dark
  • Midnight – 2 am: On the Red Carpet at the Oscars

16 hours, of which 14 are devoted to the Academy Awards! My plan is a more decorous ten hours of programming. I think it would work, and possibly succeed. (Given the recent trend in ratings, they don’t have much to lose.) Would Hollywood’s elite complain about the early start time? Unlikely… most spend the day getting ready, and most are on-site and on-carpet before 4 pm. I suspect many schedule the day after off as well, to recover from the parties.

Otherwise, air it on PBS, and have it run non-stop.