Oscars will stick with early schedule next year. Despite the headaches the move caused the rest of showbiz this year, the Academy will stick with a late February awards date

By Gary Susman
Updated April 01, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

This year, when the Motion Picture Academy moved the Oscars forward a month to the end of February, the move caused seismic ripples that forced not just the studios but most of showbiz to shuffle their schedules to get out of the Academy’s way. Despite the headaches the shift caused for everyone else, the Academy deemed the experiment a success, and it announced Wednesday that it will stick to the late February date for at least one more year. Next year’s Oscar ceremony will take place on Feb. 27. Ballots will be sent to voters on Dec. 27, with nominations announced on Jan. 25.

The 2004 move from March to February was meant to raise the awards show’s slumping ratings, take advantage of higher ABC viewership in February due to ratings sweeps programming, keep the proliferation of other awards shows from stealing Oscar’s thunder, and shorten the often nasty campaign season. It succeeded on all those counts. ”I think people were surprised by how much they didn’t dislike the new schedule,” Academy spokesman John Pavlik told The Hollywood Reporter. ”This year was sort of abnormally smooth. It certainly seemed to work better than we had feared. I think people did like the earlier schedule, and they liked the fact that it was all over [earlier in the year].”

Pavlik’s assertion aside, there was plenty of grumbling about the shift from outside the Academy. Other awards shows — not just the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild galas, but non-movie shows like the Grammys and the American Music Awards — had to move forward as well. Film critics and many Oscar voters complained that the abbreviated season, combined with the short-lived ban on sending year-end screener videos to awards groups, made it hard to see all the worthy films in time. And distributors, particularly usual Oscar-grabber Miramax, griped that the shorter campaign season didn’t give year-end releases (notably, Miramax’s ”Cold Mountain”) enough time to gain the momentum they needed to earn nominations.

Still, the schedule shift shouldn’t be as bumpy this year. Already, Miramax and other studios have decided to move their Oscar hopefuls to late November or early December release dates. And there won’t be a screener ban; Motion Picture Association of America chief Jack Valenti said last week that the MPAA would let each studio decide this year whether it wants to risk piracy by sending out screeners.

Nonetheless, there may have to be yet another schedule shift in 2006, since the likely Oscar date of Feb. 26, 2006, would conflict with NBC’s airing of the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics that same night. The show may have to move back into March to avoid competing with the lords of the Olympic rings.