He’s topical, he’s quick, and he knows how to make people laugh. In other words, he’s the consummate Oscar host. But even Jon Stewart had to call in extra reinforcements after the writers’ strike ended on Feb. 12: With just 11 days to prepare for the most watched awards broadcast in the world, Stewart shuttled 10 of his Daily Show writers across the country — not just the five who came when he hosted two years ago — to help him with the telecast. Oh, and that staff doesn’t include the four additional writers the Academy hired to pen the banter between presenters. ”Most hosts start preparing their material at least a month in advance, which in Jon’s case he couldn’t do,” says Oscar producer Gil Cates.
While Stewart and Co. pull a week of all-nighters, Cates is putting the final touches on a show that, until Feb. 12, could have gone one of two ways: Plan A was the usual black-tie affair, while Plan B involved some pretaped bits, live dance numbers, and…wait, let us count…approximately zero celebrities. Now Cates has the opportunity to combine the best components of each version while axing others — e.g., a montage of past opening monologues.
So you won’t get to relive Billy Crystal entering on a brown stallion, but you will see stars. Everyone from George Clooney to Denzel Washington to Cate Blanchett is attending, since the Academy booked some 95 percent of its presenters ahead of time — although their attendance was contingent on a strike resolution and, as a result, scads of plane tickets weren’t purchased until recently. Those costs (along with the additional money spent on that now-scuttled Plan B ceremony) are helping make this one of the highest-priced Oscars ever. ”We are adjusting the budget as we go,” says Academy president Sid Ganis, who wouldn’t discuss the price tag. ”We are trying to be as clever as we can.”
Not to mention, fast. Everyone in Hollywood is scrambling, from the environmentally friendly paper goods vendor who supplies the Governors Ball to the personal stylists who supply couture gowns. ”We are under siege right now,” says Paul Wilmot, who represents fashion houses such as Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein. ”We have to make sure no two stars are wearing the same dress.” (Oh, c’mon, let us have some fun at home.) ”And that the stars are getting the dresses they want to wear. All of the stylists are crazed.”
At this point, the organizers of the 16th annual Elton John AIDS Foundation party are probably the only ones who aren’t. The charity event — it’s expected to garner close to $5 million — was never in real danger of cancellation. It’s now the most in-demand postshow ticket in town — probably because it’s one of the only tickets in town. (Vanity Fair called off its annual soiree.)
All this last-minute jockeying may actually play to your benefit. ”We are going to have a show that has this quality of excitement that it wouldn’t have if everything was steady as she goes,” promises Ganis. And with ratings on a serious decline in recent years (25 percent over the last decade) and three of the five Best Picture nominees failing to clear $50 million, a show like that may be exactly what Oscar needs.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Juarez and Lindsay Soll