March 20, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

How to improve the Oscar ceremony

When the announcement came that there would be no interpretive dance numbers at this year’s Oscar telecast, I would venture to say the entire world (minus Debbie Allen) was doing its own interpretive dance of joy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other recurring details to dread. Here are a few things the show’s creators might consider:

Get a Clip Library Is it too much to ask to see some new clips during the annual movie montage? It doesn’t matter if the show declares itself a salute to women, editing, gaffers, or potbellied pigs — every year we see the same moments of Butch and Sundance jumping off a cliff, Meg Ryan faking an orgasm, and Blanche DuBois depending on the kindness of strangers.

Through repetition alone, the Oscars have drained any nostalgia value from these clips. I used to get the warm fuzzies when I’d see Scarlett O’Hara declaring that she’d never go hungry again. Now I’ve been seeing it every March for so long that all the quote does is remind me that tax day’s a-comin’.

And as long as they’re messing with the formula, how about making each clip longer? One-eighth of a second of Bette Davis’s face is supposed to be enough to make you mentally summon her entire career, mutter a ”God bless you, you marvelous old broad!” and move on to the next clip. Instead, we at home sit overwhelmed, wondering who hit us over the head with a rolled-up Hollywood sign. Yes, the Academy Awards are all about showbiz congratulating itself, but take a lesson from Bruce Springsteen: You can’t fit all your past hits in a three-hour show, so just make the ones you DO play count.

Cut the Clap This is more of a scold-in-advance for the Shrine Auditorium audience: During the inevitable roll call of movie folk who died during the past year, follow the same rule you’d apply to a kid who has candy in the classroom — if you don’t have enough for everyone, don’t give out any at all.

Sure, you’ll be tempted to bid adieu to George C. Scott with a thunderous cheer while letting Charles ”Buddy” Rogers (”My Best Girl”) go out with a light patter. This essentially says, “I really wish HE hadn’t died. But the other guy’s kicking it doesn’t warrant the energy necessary to bring my two palms together.” For goodness sake, these people aren’t even up for awards. So don’t make them feel like losers from the grave.

Memo to Billy: Stay Humble As bad as Whoopi Goldberg’s jokes were last year, it was even worse when she responded to the audience’s occasional silence by saying, ”Don’t worry, you’ll get it later.” No, we got the jokes just fine. But they weren’t funny on delivery, and later they were significantly less funny. By the time future generations analyze them, they will not even be recognized as humor.

Though Billy Crystal is a much stronger host, he too has suffered in past years from Infallible Host Syndrome. Sometimes a joke just stinks, and there’s nothing more insulting to an audience member than being told that you are too daft to comprehend the many levels of a punchline where, say, ”The End of the Affair” is renamed the Monica Lewinsky story. So Billy, blame Bruce Vilanch if you want, but take the bombs like a man. It could be worse: You could be dancing.

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