Academy moves to shorten Oscar-cast with fewer awards. More stringent voting rules should limit the number of honorary awards that are the Oscar show's time-killers

If you’re one of the millions who almost missed Halle Berry’s history-making sobfest at this year’s Oscars because you were snoozing through the slow parts of this year’s record-length telecast (four and a quarter hours!), the Academy feels your pain. Along with this week’s announcement that it’s thinking about moving the ceremony up a month to late February, the Academy said in a statement yesterday that it will shorten the telecast by cutting down on the number of honorary Oscars awarded, thanks to stricter voting guidelines.

This year, there were two honorary Oscars (for Sidney Poitier and Robert Redford) and a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar for director Arthur Hiller. (At least they didn’t give out the Irving Thalberg Award, the Academy’s other honorary prize, this year.) Worthy as such recipients may be, the clipfests and long thank-you speeches the honorary prizes engender are big time-killers during the ceremony. The new guidelines, however, will require a quorum of two-thirds of the Academy’s board of governors to nominate and approve an honorary award winner, and three quarters of the voters to name a second winner. That should keep the number of winners to one or two per year at most.

The announcement comes days after the Academy governors disclosed that they were considering moving the show to February, starting in 2004, which would shorten the long, expensive, and often divisive campaign season for the studios and, perhaps more importantly, bring ABC’s telecast higher ratings by moving it into February sweeps month. However, the date the Academy mentioned — Feb. 29, 2004 — falls just outside the sweeps period, which ends in the middle of the previous week. Still, ABC and the Academy have nearly two years to straighten this out.