An A-list comedy star has really pissed off Adam Shankman. It’s the day before the Oscar nominees are to be announced, and the choreographer/director/Oscar producer is irked by how tough it is to get top talent for Hollywood’s biggest night. ”I’m just surprised by the resistance,” says Shankman (Hairspray). Bill Mechanic, a veteran studio exec and Shankman’s producing partner on the show, adds, ”It’s hugely disappointing that in an industry that’s so generous, it’s also so selfish. So many awards shows have crept in front of the Oscars that the talent gets burned out.”
The burnout factor is just one of many hurdles they will face in their quest to turn the 82nd annual awards show on March 7 into a must-see TV event. Last year’s producers, Bill Condon and Laurence Mark (not to mention widely loved host Hugh Jackman), gave the telecast a much-needed ratings boost after its all-time low in 2008. And — thanks in part to the Academy’s decision to expand the Best Picture category from 5 nominees to 10, and the hiring of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as cohosts — it seems everybody’s keeping close tabs on this year’s telecast. ”People are actually talking about the show and not just the nominees,” says Shankman, 45. ”That’s special for this year. No one ever talks about the show until the day after, and then they skewer it.”
Hoping to stave off such criticism, the producers reveal some secrets as they strive to make the show younger, more relevant, and — yes, they really mean it — shorter. The telecast will retain some of last year’s well-received elements, like having five past winners introduce the nominees in each acting category. ”We are going to create a more intimate presentation,” says Shankman. ”The awards are going to be presented by people who have more connection to [the nominees].”
And while some A-listers may be hesitant about presenting, Hollywood’s newest talent is eager to fill in any gaps. ”The only people we booked initially were the younger actors,” says Mechanic, 59, who wouldn’t confirm or deny landing Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner. The producers are also trying to pair presenters in more interesting ways, with no duos promoting an upcoming film. (Alas, one unique twosome they approached didn’t pan out: Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling presenting Best Adapted Screenplay.)
Given Shankman’s heavy dance background — his last time at the Oscars was in 1990, when he performed on stage in a Little Mermaid number — you can count on some syncopated movement. The So You Think You Can Dance judge is planning two choreographed acts, including one with ”extreme” street dancing. ”As someone who’s produced the Step Up movies, I know extreme hip-hop, and this is not like anything you’ve ever seen,” he promises.
And to prevent the show from running (too) long, the producers studied hundreds of hours of Oscar tape and found an obvious time waster they intend to correct. ”They put the person in the smallest category who nobody knows in the back of the room so we have to watch them walk for 20 minutes,” says Shankman. Adds Mechanic, ”And put Brad Pitt in the first seat so he has the shortest walk.” This year, the duo will rearrange a lot of seats in hopes that they can keep us glued to ours.