This was posted on Friday, February 17, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The 89th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26 may raise some eyebrows if winners go political - and given that this is La La Land, that is a very likely possibility.
Here are some basics about the upcoming telecast though I am not going to help you with your entire Oscar pool. You're on your own figuring out which animated short film is going to win.
So are the Oscars so white again?
Last year was rocked with controversy over an all-white slate of nominees in major categories leading to the phrase #OscarsSoWhite. And host Chris Rock was there to throw in some sharp commentary. Ratings were below par. This led to changes in the way the Academy voting pool is structured and hundreds of younger, more diverse members were added.
The result: four of the Best Picture nominees featured minorities in primary roles: "Hidden Figures," "Moonlight," "Fences" and "Lion."
Minority nominees made the cut in the acting and directing categories as well, including Denzel Washington ("Fences"), Dev Patel ("Lion"), Ruth Negga ("Loving"), Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight), Viola Davis ("Fences"), Octavia Spencer ("Hidden Figures"), Naomi Harris ("Moonlight") and Barry Jenkins ("Moonlight").
Of course, the film favored to win, "La La Land," is about Hollywood actors and all the main characters are white. The only way it could lose is if a genuine backlash occurs among Academy voters who may have seen the "SNL" skit where a man is arrested for only liking the movie as opposed to loving it.
When does it air?
It starts at 8:30 p.m. EST sharp and is scheduled to run three hours. It never runs just three hours. Rather, the Oscar telecast typically takes about 30 to 45 minutes longer, ending past midnight. On some particularly gruesome nights, the clock has ticked past 12:30 a.m. EST. Why? The telecast airs 24 major categories, far more than any other awards show. That's a lot to squeeze in, plus commercials, Kimmel jokes, lifetime achievement awards, performances of the nominated songs, the "In Memoriam" segment and film montages. (The Grammy's last weekend, for instance, aired all of 10 out of 84, squeezing the others into an untelevised pre-cast.)
Fashion! What about the red carpet?
For E!, this red carpet is their Super Bowl. Coverage begins (get this) seven hours early at 1:30 p.m. with a countdown to the red carpet that lasts a whopping four hours. Then there is three hours of the red carpet itself from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. led by Ryan Seacrest and Giuliana Rancic. On Monday, Melissa Rivers, NeNe Leakes, Margaret Cho and Brad Goreski will parse out the fashion highlights and disasters on E! at 8 p.m. Over on ABC, red carpet coverage will start at 7 p.m. hosted by Lara Spencer ("Good Morning America") and Chris Harrison ("The Bachelor").
What about the host?
This year's host Jimmy Kimmel is a safe bet. He's part of the ABC family. He's chummy with big stars, as evidenced by his annual skits he does after the Oscars on his show. At the same time, he's not an actor so he can provide a mildly jaundiced view of Hollywood but not too much to offend. He's also a naturally funny guy who can entertain the viewers. He is not a dancer or singer so don't expect anything Billy Crystal/Hugh Jackman like.
How many people watch?
Many folks host Oscar parties. But the Oscars are no Super Bowl. While the Super Bowl averaged 113 million viewers a couple of weeks ago, the Oscars over the past decade have drawn between 32 to 44 million overnight viewers. Still, that's more than any TV series or regular season sporting event.
Popularity any given year depends mostly on which films are nominated. I think the host is a minor factor. The most popular Oscars of the past decade was 2015 when "12 Years a Slave" ($57 million in domestic box office gross) won but was up against more popular films such as "Gravity" ($274 million), "Captain Phillips" (107 million), "American Hustle" ($150 million) and "Wolf of Wall Street" ($117 million).
This year, none of the nominated best picture films were blockbusters along the lines of "Rogue One," ($528 million) "Finding Dory" ($486 million) or "Deadpool," ($363 million) the only top 10 film among top domestic grosses that experts thought might make the cut.
The other six have all been profitable but not huge hits: "Hacksaw Ridge" ($66.61 million), "Fences" ($54.27 million), "Manchester By The Sea" ($45.1 million), "Lion" ($31.87 million), "Hell or High Water" ($27 million) and "Moonlight" ($20.56 million).
A few big names are nominated in the acting categories and will add some glitz to the affair, presuming they all show up e.g. Washington (best actor), Mel Gibson (best director, "Hacksaw Ridge"), Nicole Kidman ("Lion"), Jeff Bridges ("Hell or High Water"), Meryl Streep ("Florence Foster Jenkins") and Natalie Portman ("Jackie").
Based on those factors, the ratings will probably end up closer to 40 million than 32 million, which happened in 2008 when Jon Stewart hosted to mostly poor reviews and "No Country for Old Men" win.
What are the oddsmakers saying
The top five categories show not a single close race, based on the betting markets.
Despite the aforementioned backlash, "La La Land" is still favored to take home the Best Picture statuette, following in the tradition of actor-focused films winning e.g. "Birdman," "The Artist," "Argo," "Shakespeare in Love."
The only film that appears to have a remote shot at unseating that movie is the thoughtful indie film "Moonlight" about a gay black man's struggles growing up in a world that didn't accept him.
Casey Affleck is the massive frontrunner to win best actor for his downtrodden role in "Manchester By the Sea" with Washington the spoiler. (UPDATE on Wednesday, February 22: Entertainment Weekly said Washington is now the favorite as Affleck's personal life may have hurt him among some voters.)
Emma Stone is the safe bet for best actress in "La La Land" with Natalie Portman a distant second.
Mahershala Ali is leading among gamblers for best supporting actor in "Moonlight" while Viola Davis is the likeliest nominee to win best supporting actress in "Fences."
"The 89th Annual Academy Awards," 8:30 p.m. EST, Sunday, February 26, ABC