BLOG: Fixing the Oscars: Shortened Principles

by Ken Bakely

NOTE: This will either be a stand-alone blog post or the start of a multi-part series detailing various suggestions for improving the Oscars. Whether or not there are sequels will depend on my enthusiasm for writing them and the web traffic performance of this installment.

I’ve made no bones about my distaste for the Academy Awards themselves. In that respect, I’m in good company, but I seem to be in more of a minority when it comes to my criticism for the structure of the ceremony itself. I consider myself something of a casual award show viewer, in the sense that I focus on the “major” ones: those that can be specifically named as synonymous with their industries, and don’t contain the word “choice” in the title. The Oscars seem to always stand out as the most endless of all of them. The Globes, Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys are usually pretty good at fitting into their allotted timeslots. Oscar ceremony producers seem to use the scheduled end time as a 30 minute warning.

Since 2013, I’ve watched every Oscarcast from beginning to end. While that might not sound like a huge sample size, the past five years have identified a specific set of trends which seem to be unaddressed, no matter who is in charge of the show from year to year. Every year, I’ve recorded the exact time that Best Picture was announced on the East Coast, and used it as a benchmark. As a reminder, the show is supposed to end at 11:30 –

2013: 11:55 PM (25 minutes over)
2014: 11:56 PM (26 minutes over)
2015: 12:04 AM (34 minutes over)
2016: 12:00 AM (30 minutes over)
2017: 12:09 AM (39 minutes over)*

*For the purposes of this piece, I’ve used the time that La La Land was erroneously announced as the winner, as the outcome wouldn’t have been significantly different if things had gone according to plan.

So the question becomes what can be done to shorten the length of the show. Let’s pretend that I’ve been handed complete control of the 90th Oscars, and have been allowed to make some changes. Assuming that the show would have ended at 12:10AM otherwise, I will calculate the “new” end time as I go along.

1. Fewer awards
The Emmys and Grammys are prime examples of awards ceremonies that know how to prioritize. They have a set of core honors that are dished out on air, while the others are relegated to a smaller event held beforehand. The Oscars have practiced this to an extent, moving some non-competitive awards off the telecast. But why stop there? Let’s say we moved another eight awards off the Dolby Theater’s stage. Their recipients should still be honored, of course, but perhaps not on the show itself. We could start by cutting the three short film prizes, and then a mix-and-match of the technical Oscars (the sound awards, costume, makeup, etc.). The fact of the matter is that while the stars in the room do (and should) care about the people who work in those departments, the viewers at home are not as interested in watching a tribute to sound mixing.

Assuming that each award takes around three minutes to present, implementing this strategy would allow the show to end roughly 24 minutes earlier. Revised end time: 11:46 PM.

2. Cut the singing
The five Best Original Song nominees are typically invited to perform their songs on the show. This is pointless. Especially now, as the Academy shuns pop hits for more obscure fare, there can’t even be the excuse of having big names used as a promotional gimmick. To be fair, the Oscars have been fixing this somewhat, and shortening the performances more liberally, but why not go all the way?

Assuming a performance time of around three-and-a-half minutes each, implementing this strategy would allow the show to end up to 14 minutes earlier. Revised end time: 11:32 PM.

3. Shorter acceptance speeches
Right now, the de jure rule is that acceptance remarks must not run longer than 45 seconds. While it seems like more famous recipients are allowed to bend that guideline, I propose that a new policy be instated altogether. Last year, the Oscars took a step in the right direction and relegated the “dedications” – the endless stream of thank-yous which take up a majority of a speech’s running time – to a crawl along the bottom of the screen. Sadly, it seems that this policy was done away with this year.  I’ve pulled up my Facebook friends list and timed how long it took to pronounce the names of  the first ten people that were displayed – about 15 seconds. Therefore, I recommend that this much time be removed from the speeches.  This way, you can either make prepared remarks or thank your friends, family, and colleagues, but not both. You have many opportunities to do that in the backstage press conference.

Assuming that this would shorten the amount of time spent on an award from around three minutes to 2:45, implementing this strategy would allow the show to end up to 4.5 minutes earlier. Revised end time: 11:27 PM.

BONUS SUGGESTION: Start it earlier
Right now, the Oscars start at 8:30 PM on the East Coast. That’s not bad, but considering that in American network television, prime time on Sunday nights starts earlier than it does the other six days of the week, it’s a little puzzling. The Oscars used to be broadcast at 9 PM, but then shifted back a half-hour. Why not do it again? Start the show at 8 o’clock instead.

This would not shorten the broadcast, but would advance its ending. Revised end time: 10:57 PM.

And just like that, the Oscars would fit entirely in a comfortable, three-hour timeslot, just like they’re supposed to now, with the added bonus of being broadcast entirely within the window of prime time (which ends at 11 PM Eastern Time). As for the likelihood of each being actually introduced to a future Oscarcast, I’d predict #2 as the most likely, followed by the bonus suggestion, then #3, and #1 way at the bottom.

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