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Oscar producers won't return; Academy to search for new showrunners

Search is on for replacement Oscar producers as Neil Meron and Craig Zadan step back

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After three consecutive years as the producers of the Oscars, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have decided not to return for a fourth. Now the search is on for who will oversee next year’s telecast.

The choice was theirs, sources close to the pair confirm, ending a three-year deal with ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The two, who’ve produced films such as Chicago and The Bucket List, in addition to TV projects such as the live NBC productions of Peter Pan and The Sound of Music, were credited with bringing new playfulness to the ceremony and trimmed back some of the pageantry to make room for more music and entertainment amid the envelope-opening.

Reps for Zadan and Meron declined further comment, but Academy president Cheryl Boone-Isaacs issued this statement: “Craig and Neil have been wonderful creative partners over the last three years, contributing some of the most innovative and memorable Oscar moments. They are true showmen with enormous talent and expertise. We’re looking forward to seeing the exciting projects they have in the works.”

Sources tell EW that those other film, television, and stage projects are what motivated the pair to tell the Academy they weren’t interested in returning for another show. The Oscars can become a full-time job that consumes nearly half the year, and that meant other deals they had in the works could not move forward.

It’s extremely rare for any producer to run the show for four years. The late Gil Cates, who produced it for six straight years from 1989-1994. Cates also produced it three years in a row, from 1996-1998, and Joe Pasternak produced it for three years from 1964-1966.

According to the Academy, the only other producer to do the show for four years without a break was Arthur Freed, from 1959-1962.

Zadan and Meron had ratings success in their first two years, bringing in the out-of-the-box choice of Seth MacFarlane as host in 2013, and returning Ellen DeGeneres to the stage for her second turn as emcee in 2014. With MacFarlane, ratings were up 3% for 40.3 million viewers. His “We Saw Your Boobs” spoof song earned some scorn, but the pair was praised for their showstopping musical numbers and streamlining a broadcast that had been criticized for dragging on.

They had even more success with DeGeneres, whose “selfie” moment in the audience has become an iconic Academy Awards moment. That broadcast saw ratings rise 6 percent, totaling 43 million viewers — making it the most-watched entertainment show in a decade.

This year’s broadcast, with Neil Patrick Harris as host, was a step backward, however. Ratings fell to a six-year low for the show, with 36.6 million viewers — a 16 percent plunge. Harris wasn’t controversial, but he was criticized for being flat — which may be worse. 

Despite the drop, Zadan and Meron had indicated they were planning to take a break from the Academy Awards for a while.

Now, the search is on. Post your recommendations for Oscar producers in the comments. Who knows? Maybe it’ll give the Academy some ideas.