The Oscars

Powerhouse Chicago and Smash producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron knew for years they wanted to produce the Academy Awards. Appropriately, in fact, The Bucket List co-producers had it on their own bucket list. Check!

Named on Thursday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as producers of next year’s 85th annual awards ceremony, Zadan and Meron hinted to their hopes for the telecast (an emphasis on music and personal emotion), set to air live Feb. 24 on ABC. The lifelong musical lovers – Meron just watched a favorite, West Side Story, on Blu-ray the other day – have produced dozens of film, TV and theater projects ranging from 2002 Oscar winner Chicago, NBC Broadway TV show Smash, Broadway revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and 2007’s Hairspray and Footloose remakes. Zadan co-produced 1984’s beloved original Footloose. The pair has been nominated for eight Emmys, but no Oscars.

Zadan and Meron brushed asides any references to drama surrounding this year’s Oscars, when producer Brett Ratner quit after making homophobic remarks, prompting pal Eddie Murphy to also leave the show as its host. Brian Grazer took up the reigns as producer, with longstanding host Billy Crystal stepping in. Zadan and Meron preferred to keep things as light and drama-free as possible.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on the new gig! Are you going to bring more musical numbers to the telecast, given your background? Can you name any specifics?

NEIL MERON: We’ve been on the job a very short time. Doing what we’re known for is part of our professional DNA. Of course there will be some musical elements, because we love music and that’s what we do.

So, let’s get right down to it. Who’s going to host? There are so many possibilities. Jimmy Fallon? Ricky Gervais? He may not return to the Golden Globes. Give us some names?

CRAIG ZADAN: We’ve had the job for two days. We haven’t had the time to get in-depth. … We’ve put together a cool list of ideas of who could host. [New Academy President] Hawk Koch also put in his list. We’ve looked at these people, to figure it out. We’ve had so many exciting possibilities.

NEIL MERON: It’s unfair to anyone to start spit balling names until we lock into our pecking order, … but we’re going to decide right away. … What I love about the Oscars is the speculation. People get excited. It’s part of the game.

How did you snag this “bucket list” opportunity?

CRAIG ZADAN: Koch got to be president a couple of weeks ago, and called us. He said, “Would you be interested in producing the Oscars?” We said, “YAH.” We’ve been thinking about this for a decade. Over the years we’ve accumulated lots of cool concepts and visions, knowing that call may never come. We’re still in shock.

There have been so many past Oscar moments to pull inspiration (or not) from: Hugh Jackman singing and dancing as host of the telecast in 2008, fellow actors and actresses introducing acting nominees individually in passionate speeches instead of as a list. This is your first time producing the Oscars. What are you pulling from the past, or what fresh ideas are you bringing in, to draw in viewers and reach a broader audience?

NEIL MERON: The thing about it is, there have been so many great shows in the past. We are going to do our homework. The academy will provide us with every single show that’s ever been produced. We’re the kind of producers to embrace a good idea. The thing I love are the unexpected and emotional acceptance speeches. That kind of humanizes the show, and humanizes the whole process, and makes what we do for a living tangible. To bring the experience of movies to a personal level. Anything that enhances the human, emotional nature of the presentation is what we want to embrace.

When will a host be announced?

NEIL MERON: That’s our first job. Very very soon.

In a few days? In the next few weeks?

NEIL MERON: Yes, something like that.

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