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As Oscar viewers dip, try a new strategy

It's cool to dis the Oscars these days.

Anything 81 years old in an age when '81 is a prom year is an easy target.

And anyone using the word "dis" is already behind the times, as the Academy Awards appear to be.

Year after year, the academy promises tighter, hipper shows. Each year the program goes overtime, thanks to hoary tributes and lame musical numbers.

Academy president Sid Ganis promises changes this year but, aside from hiring Hugh Jackman as host, is mum about details. Even the usual stream of announcements of celebrity presenters has been stilled.

One thing is certain: Ganis must deliver an entertaining show before the Oscars reach the tipping point of public uninterest. Except, of course, for the fashionistas.

Serious Oscarphiles — and the number is declining — believe the real show begins after the red carpet parade of preening stars and fawning interviewers.

Fashion is fleeting. You don't see many game show jackpot questions about Oscar fashions, or office pools predicting who will wear what label. More celebrity obituaries will begin with the phrase "Academy Award winner" than "fashion mannequin."

But the academy needs to start playing the shallow glamor game better inside the Kodak Theater. Otherwise it will continue making history with fewer people noticing.

In a 24-hour news cycle, everything is trivial, especially in Hollywood, where parsed numbers — "the top-grossing comedy with a cat, on Tuesday" — may earn the next day's headline. By striving for posterity, the academy widens the gap between itself and pop culture.

It's time for the Oscars to join the rush to superficiality, rather than try to rise above it.

With that in mind, I offer these four suggestions for how the academy can make the Oscars entertaining to an easily distracted public. Two are serious, two aren't. See if you can tell the difference in today's entertainment climate.

Create new categories

I know, the current 24 are already too many to televise, but we'll get to that. There should be a people's choice award or two, maybe with online or text-message voting like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Who cares if Adam Sandler, Miley Cyrus or Twilight is immortalized with Oscars? Fans will tune in and gush about how smart the academy became by dumbing down.

Two words: Reality Oscars

Lock all nominees in a mansion, Big Brother-style, where they can backstab each other to their hearts' content. The contest ends on an obstacle course with an immunity idol — the Oscar — awaiting the first one across the finish line.

Only celebrities go onstage or speak

Anyone who hasn't been pegged by tabloid gossip stays in his or her seat. That means passing out technical and nonstar Oscars before the show, or else an epidemic of costume designers and screenwriters behaving badly in public. Either way, the audience wins.

Clothing-optional acceptance speeches

Mickey Rourke, Kate Winslet and Marisa Tomei appear game to go au natural. The possibility of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the buff would send ratings through the roof. Of course, ABC would need to hand over broadcast rights to HBO or Showtime.

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

As Oscar viewers dip, try a new strategy 02/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 21, 2009 6:32pm]
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