Oscar hosts come in two flavors.
There are filmdom insiders — Hugh Jackman, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, etc. — and filmdom outsiders such as David Letterman, Chris Rock, and Jon Stewart.
Outsiders tend to favor a scorched-earth approach.
Remember Rock’s ‘‘Who is Jude Law’’ Oscar gag — ‘‘You want Tom Cruise and all you can get is Jude Law? Wait! . . . Why is he in every movie I have seen the last four years? Even the movies he’s not acting in, if you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something’’ — which got presenter Sean Penn hopping mad?
This year’s host, Seth MacFarlane, is a member of the outsiders, although, yes, he directed, coproduced, co-wrote, and costarred in ‘‘Ted,’’ the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy film of all time.
Mostly, MacFarlane is known as the guy TV critics love to hate — the brains behind Fox’s animated ‘‘Family Guy,’’ the much-derided magnet for young-guy viewers, the elusive unicorns of the television industry.
Looking to put his stamp on the Oscar-hosting tradition, MacFarlane decided not to wait for the actual ceremony to begin scorching the earth. In January, MacFarlane became the first Academy Awards host to help unveil the nominees since Charlton Heston, more than 40 years ago.
‘‘These are five people who are the very best at sitting in a chair and watching other people make a movie,’’ MacFarlane snipped after the best-director nominations were announced.
‘‘These are adapted screenplays, so that means that the writers basically copied stuff from Microsoft Word and pasted it into Final Draft,’’ he cracked when the names of the movies nominated for best adapted screenplay were read.
MacFarlane no doubt was inspired by Jimmy Kimmel’s performance at the Emmy nominations unveiling last July — Kimmel having stepped in gallantly to participate in the predawn ceremony, in his jammies, when Nick Offerman of ‘‘Parks and Recreation’’ bailed at the 11th hour, and turned the moment into gold:
‘‘The Emmys should be spelled ‘M-E’, ‘cause that’s what this is all about,’’ Kimmel quipped at the nomination name reading.
‘‘I think they all stink. I don’t like any of them,’’ he said of his fellow nominees, after it was announced his show had received its first nomination for best late-night talk show.
‘‘Only old people get up this early, I guess,’’ he said snarkily when Betty White’s nomination for outstanding reality-show host was greeted with loud cheers in the TV academy theater where the unveiling was held.
The Reporters Who Cover Trophy Shows lapped it up.
‘‘If Thursday’s announcement of the Emmy Awards nominations is any indication, TV fans will be laughing out loud when the show, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, airs live Sept. 23 . . . because Kimmel . . . was a hoot,’’ People magazine raved. There was loads more where that came from.
MacFarlane aped Kimmel during the Oscar nomination-naming, but died onstage.
‘‘Seth MacFarlane Shows Hollywood Just How Big of a Jerk He’ll Be at the Oscars,’’ stormed the Atlantic Wire in a headline when it was over.
‘‘In the less than 10 minutes it took to announce the nominees, MacFarlane managed to insult his co-presenter, belittle the achievements of several nominees, and make a Hitler joke,’’ sniffed Slate, which appears not to know that MacFarlane makes Hitler jokes like other people breathe.
(This particular Hitler gag: ‘‘I read ‘Amour’ was coproduced in Austria and Germany. . . . The last time Austria got together [with Germany] and coproduced something it was Hitler, but this is much better.”)
‘‘David Letterman, you can probably stop making jokes about how much the movie industry disliked your host gig; a new winner in that category may reveal itself on Oscar night,’’ Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker forecast, forgetting that the title had already been stolen in 2011 when James Franco did not so much host as deconstruct ‘‘the hostiness of hosting’’ — Entertainment Weekly-speak for ‘‘decided he was too hip to host, much less attend rehearsals.’’
On paper, MacFarlane seemed a perfect choice to host this year’s song-and-dance heavy Oscar show, when he was announced back in October.
While MacFarlane has admitted he’s no dancer, he can sing; in 2011 he recorded an album of swing-jazz tunes called ‘‘Music Is Better Than Words.’’ And he’s already demonstrated his hosting skills at Comedy Central roasts of David Hasselhoff, Donald Trump, and Charlie Sheen. MacFarlane is the only host to be asked back again in the history of the franchise.
‘‘His performing skills blend perfectly with our ideas for making the show entertaining and fresh,’’ said this year’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — the song-and-dance-loving producers of such flicks as ‘‘Flashdance’’ and ‘‘Chicago,’’ TV adaptations of Broadway musicals ‘‘Gypsy,’’ ‘‘Annie,’’ and ‘‘The Music Man,’’ and producers of NBC’s let’s-make-a-musical drama series ‘‘Smash.’’
He also brings an anticipatory edge to this year’s Oscarcast that may help goose its ratings, which seemed destined to rank poorly when the nominees were announced, with nary a box-office blockbuster in the best-picture race.
Oscar ratings have everything to do with that year’s best-picture contenders and not very much to do with the host, Nielsen numbers demonstrate every year.
The most-watched Oscar show on record remains the 1998 ceremony, when ‘‘Titanic’’ was in the running for best picture and more than 55 million fans tuned in to see it win.
That year’s host, Billy Crystal, also hosted the ceremony one year earlier but logged 20 million fewer viewers because there was no ‘‘Titanic’’ in the best-picture race. That year’s winner: art-housey ‘‘The English Patient,’’ besting ‘‘Fargo,’’ ‘‘Secrets & Lies,’’ ‘‘Shine,’’ and ‘‘Jerry Maguire.’’
Meanwhile, the most-savaged Oscar host (before Franco) was Letterman, but his 1995 ceremony clocked nearly 49 million viewers — the Oscars’ third-biggest crowd ever. ‘‘Forrest Gump’’ was crowned best picture that year.
Conversely, when the much-loved Stewart hosted the ceremony in 2008, the Academy Awards suffered its smallest crowd on record — about 32 million viewers. ‘‘No Country for Old Men’’ won the best-picture derby in a field that also included ‘‘Atonement,’’ ‘‘Juno,’’ ‘‘Michael Clayton,’’ and ‘‘There Will Be Blood.’’
But this year might just be different, based on the quantities of searingly bad press MacFarlane has already received. People may tune in to see just how far MacFarlane will go when the stage is his. Will he go Ricky-Gervais-at-the-2011-Golden-Globes far? (That was the year Gervais flogged the audience right and left and introduced the head of the Globes-sponsoring Hollywood Foreign Press Association by announcing to the Hollywood glitterati in the room that ‘‘I just had to help him off the toilet and pop his teeth in.”)
MacFarlane has already demonstrated a knack for turning a trophy-show nonstarter into major noise. During Emmy voting in 2012, his mailer to voters for ‘‘Family Guy,’’ which included the phrase ‘‘Come on, you bloated, overprivileged Brentwood Jews. Let us into your little club,’’ sent the press into a ecstasy of outrage. That included trade publication the Hollywood Reporter, which interviewed (it said) several ‘‘Brentwood’’ producers for their reaction, while being sure to note that ‘‘several outlets, including THR, rejected the ad.’’
When the hoped-for controversy erupted, MacFarlane placidly told E! Entertainment, ‘‘Hollywood is a town of very well-to-do folks who live very comfortably. They have a very comfortable lifestyle, they do what they love, there’s not much that is bad in their life. So they should be able to laugh at themselves. If they can’t, it’s a rather sad thing.’’