Chris Rock will be dancing with Oscar again on February 28th, 2016 as the host of the 88th annual Academy Awards. He announced the job today with a low-key tweet of a photo of himself holding the statue:
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) October 21, 2015
Rock last hosted the ceremony in 2005 when producers were looking to engage a younger, edgier audience. He tried to live up to the task, quipping during the monologue, “Welcome to the 77th, and last, Academy Awards,” and dissing actors like Jude Law, and Tobey Maguire.
“Clint Eastwood is a star, okay? Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights. You want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law? Wait. It’s not the same thing. Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I have seen the last four years? He’s in everything. Even the movies he’s not acting in. If you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something. He’s in everything. He’s gay, he’s straight, he’s American, he’s British – next year, he’s playing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a movie.”
Certifiably non-edgy Sean Penn defended Law, his co-star in All the King’s Men, when he presented the Best Actress award. “Forgive my lack of humor, Jude Law is one of our most talented actors,” said the star.
Producers have always tried to mix up the Oscars with new monologues, musical presentations, and hosts. But Rock was following a 15-year rotation of successful hosting from Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg – except the odd 1992 ceremony where David Letterman tried on the role. It was a miserable fit.
And attracting the Oscar audience has always been a tough game. In the late 80s and 90s the audience hovered between 42-48 million viewers, before falling to 40 million in 1997, then rebounding to 57 million in 1998, the year Titanic won Best Picture.
By the time Rock came around ratings were on a slow downhill slide and 42 million people tuned in to see Million Dollar Baby take home the top award. Only 38 million returned the next year for Jon Stewart, and ratings have never bounced back. Since then the telecast has fallen steadily, now running between 35-40 million, though 43 million watched when Ellen DeGeneres hosted in 2014.
How much does the host matter though? Sure, they bring some built-in fan base to the show but after the opening number the host’s role is cursory – taking jabs as winners and insulting the Academy.
It’s notable that the Oscars’ best years for ratings were during the time when the first MTV generation was coming of age, and entertainment was making news like never before. Cable was a regular feature in homes and Entertainment Weekly, which launched in 1990, brought weekly doses of pop culture into homes. As much as we analyze the hosts and features of the broadcast, the cultural landscape has a lot to do with things as well. Now many people are likely to DVR the proceedings, or just watch the highlights on-demand.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 21, 2015
So this choice of hosts could be as much a chance to make a statement as draw a crowd. In a time when industry diversity is top-of-mind (last year the acting nominees included zero minorities) the Academy is pushing back in subtle ways. Last year they included a diverse lineup of performers and presenters, this year they have an African-American producer, the Academy president (also African-American) will surely make a speech, and they’re bringing back Rock, a man not known for subtlety. Prior to the 2005 awards he commented to EW, “Come on, it’s a fashion show. No one performs; it’s not like a music show. What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars? Show me one.”
He’s off to an interesting and quiet start with this simple tweet though, so we’ll have to watch to see what we’re still talking about in ten years.