Hathaway and Franco Are Less-Than-Spectacular Oscar Hosts

Unfortunately, they've been given the job in a year that won't even see that many exciting nominations

I love the Academy Awards and watch it every year.

I have run Oscar pools at work. I read every article about Oscar buzz. I try and watch every movie and every performance in the top categories. All in anticipation of the big night, when I know that even if the night is long, the speeches are boring, and the movies are lame, the host will be funny. He or she or they will share my pain and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

I don’t have that same safety net this year. When the Academy Awards announced that James Franco and Anne Hathaway would co-host the show, I was disappointed, but not surprised.[SIGNUP]

I have worked in TV long enough to know how executive producers think — or don’t think. James Franco and Anne Hathaway are both pretty. It is the shiny object theory. If you dangle a shiny object in front of an audience, like a set of keys in front of an infant, they will watch. You see shiny objects sitting on anchor desks in local news desks across the country. It rarely works. After a week or so, when you realize the only thing these anchors ever read is the teleprompter, you move on. But T.V. executives, not ones to admit when they are wrong, keep trying to attract an audience with people that very few of us can relate to.

And then there are the all-important demographics. The people who buy ad time on T.V. want a certain age group, usually 18-49 or 25-54. Again, T.V. executives’ philosophy to attract that audience is simple and wrong. They seem to believe that if they put young people on the air then young people will watch. James Franco is 32 and Anne Hathaway is 28; they will be the youngest hosts in the history of the Academy Awards.
You know what young people want to watch? The same thing we all want to watch — talented or at least competent people. In this case, they want their hosts to be able to entertain them through an otherwise boring awards ceremony. If the hosts happen to be young or pretty, great, but don’t make the shallow mistake of making talent an afterthought.

That is not to say that James Franco and Anne Hathaway lack talent. They are two of the most promising young actors in Hollywood and, in fact, will probably both be nominated for Academy Awards this year, adding to the awkwardness of the show. Franco and Hathaway are just not the first names that come to mind when you think of comedy, or singing, or dancing, or even hosting for that matter. It would be great if this was a romantic comedy called The Academy Awards that came with a great script, a couple of months of shooting and many more months of post-production. But this is the Academy Awards, the live television show seen by hundreds of millions that relies on quick-witted hosts who can turn an awkward moment into something funny, not something even more awkward.

Franco and Hathaway may surprise us all with live T.V. stage charm and wit that will be remembered forever. But why do we need to gamble on T.V.’s biggest stage? Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, even Hugh Jackman, had all proven their ability to ad lib and carry a show before they were picked.

Hollywood’s big night should not be an audition. In their careers so far Franco is best remembered as the young actor in Spiderman, who wasn’t Spiderman; and the young talented actor in Milk who wasn’t Sean Penn. Anne Hathaway is the young talented actress in The Devil Wears Prada, who wasn’t Meryl Streep. They are the hosts that weren’t.

Even if you wanted to go with a young, “shiny object,” I can think of a dozen young comedians and performers that would make sense. Justin Timberlake is at the top of that list. He can pull off the singing and dancing numbers and has shown off his comedy chops during several appearances on Saturday Night Live. Chelsea Handler, Seth Myers, Zach Galifianakis and Joel McHale also come to mind as hosts who could make the night memorable. That is if the Academy Awards was hellbent on trying someone new. Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey are more obvious choices, and they all appeal to the desirable demographics.

But the bigger point here, and I guess what the Academy Awards show producers are banking on, is that I am still watching. Franco and Hathaway will stick to the script and won’t say anything to offend. In other words, they will probably be fine, not spectacular, but fine.

It is a shame, because this year the Academy Awards could use spectacular hosts, as the movies expected to be nominated are not. The only legitimate blockbuster in the Best Movie category will probably be Toy Story 3, and that doesn’t stir the excitement of Avatar, Titanic or Forrest Gump. Most of the rest of the list will be filled with indie films that were in and out of the theaters so fast more Academy Awards voters will have seen them than ticket buyers.

So the two talented young actors, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, will just be pretty accessories that match the nominated movies and the show. Everything will be “fine.” And that will make for a long night.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to wpix.com.