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the TINY SCREEN: Seems like old timers…

Sasha Stone

Mirror staff writer

Boy, the times they have a-changed. Did you know Gil Cates, veteran producer of this year’s Oscar telecast, had a blog on Oscar.com? The lengths the Academy will go to try to stay up to the minute with the changes to modern American society. Too little, too late. Until the Academy’s tastes are in step with the majority of people who live here, the Oscars will continue to be as boring as ever, no matter how many nominees are seen waiting on stage rather than sitting in the audience.

The problem with the Oscars certainly isn’t the ceremony itself. Viewers have been tuning in for decades to see names being called, and so and so who just won for live action short, making his way to the stage. That’s when smart Oscar watchers usually go for a bathroom break (in the days before TIVO).

The Oscars have gotten a bad rap lately, in part because they don’t honor great films, so the critics hate them, and they don’t honor popular films so the public hates them. It’s understandable of course, what voting body is going to put the top five box office winners in the best picture category? Meet the Fockers for best screenplay anyone?

So when it was announced that Chris Rock would host, the public did a collective gasp. Rock is a harsh critic of phonies and he pulls no punches. He’s come out publicly stating how much he hated The Aviator, for instance, and how he would have some sort of fit if Jamie Foxx was robbed of the Oscar. And then there was all of that business in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly in which Rock quipped that no straight men tune into the Oscars. Everyone huffed and puffed but in the end, how can anyone argue with him? He speaks the truth.

Watching the Oscars is a personal experience for most people who watch them. It’s about the glamour, yes, and about looking at the pretty people in their fancy clothes, but it’s also about winning and losing, something the reality programs figured out how to tap into effectively. But is also old fashioned. The ceremony usually follows the same formula, announcing the supporting categories early, and the big ones at the end of the night, with a very very boring tribute somewhere in the middle.

Instead of cutting the time used for winners to walk from their seats to the stage, Cates ought to keep the recent practice of showing more film clips, with interviews and montages – the better they are the more interesting the show.

Another way to up the ratings would be to bring in more interesting categories than AMPAS chooses. Since they view themselves as an elitist institution (which they aren’t really, of course, middle brow is more like it) perhaps it’s time to rethink their place in American culture. It’s the only award show, for instance, that doesn’t include categories for audience favorites. The telecast itself should hold a phone in vote, like American Idol does, for an audience favorite film. Na, who am I kidding?

The lineup of presenters isn’t exactly must-see: Charlize Theron, Renee Zellweger, Orlando Bloom, Tim Robbins, Salma Hayek, Martin Scorsese, Halle Berry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, Zhang Ziyi, Robin Williams, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Drew Barrymore, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, and John Travolta. Surely there are more interesting people out there who might help draw viewers – the Desperate Housewives maybe?

Gone are the outrageous types who used to be so familiar on the Oscars – where is our generation’s Cher for instance? Nowadays, all of the women look so perfect in their perfect dresses with their perfect hair. No one exists just to be gossiped about. And that is another thing that makes the Oscars less exciting than they used to be.

But the bottom line is this: there are some things that ought not to be meddled with. No one is going to worry about whether or not George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech should be spruced up for ratings, nor should they meddle with the boring, ancient, but utterly enjoyable Oscar telecast.

The Oscars will be telecast live on Sunday, February 27, at 5 p.m. on ABC.

This Week’s Notable TV

Thursday, February 24

High Noon (****), 7:30 p.m., AMC.

Peter Jennings Reporting, and he reports on U.F.O.’S. No kidding, 8 p.m., ABC.

Waking Life (***), when Richard Linklater met Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, 8 p.m., IFC.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (***), 9:15 p.m., AMC.

Friday, February 25

Rocky (**), a non-deserving Oscar winner, 7:30 p.m., TCM.

Shakespeare in Love (****), a deserving Oscar winner for a change, 7:30 p.m., BRAVO.

Rosemary’s Baby (****), 9:15 p.m., AMC.

Midnight Cowboy (****), 10 p.m., TCM.

Saturday, February 26

Forrest Gump (**), yawn, 8 p.m., ABC.

Mystery! Second Sight II, with the gorgeous Clive Owen, 8 p.m., KCET.

Rain Man (***), 8 p.m., TCM.

All About Eve (****), 9 p.m., FMC.

American Experience: Malcolm X, Make it Plain. 9 p.m., KCET.

Sunday,February 27

The French Connection (****), back when the Oscars really were about rewarding the best, 7:30 p.m., FMC.

The 77th Academy Awards, with Chris Rock as host, 7:30 p.m., ABC.

Barbara Walters Special, 9 p.m., ABC.

An Evening at the Academy Awards, self-congratulatory nonsense, 9:30 p.m., ABC.

Monday, February 28

Irving Thalberg: King of Hollywood, 7:30 p.m., TCM.

The Wiz (***), 7:30 p.m., WE.

The Bachelorette Finale, anyone who gives a hoot raise your hand, 8 p.m., ABC.

Shackleton’s Voyage of Endurance, 9 p.m., KCET.

Tuesday, March 1

Somebody Up There Likes Me (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM.

The Amazing Race, 9 p.m., CBS.

Frontline: The Soldier’s Heart, on soldiers adjusting the life back home, 9 p.m., KCET.

Altman: On His Own Terms, 9:15 p.m., FMC.

Wednesday, March 2

American Idol, 9 p.m., FOX.

North by Northwest (****), 9:15 p.m., TCM.

On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize, presented to Lorne Michaels, 9 p.m., KCET.Muriel’s Wedding (***), 10:15 p.m., IFC.

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