Newspaper article International New York Times

With TV Ratings Declining, a Lot Is at Stake in Hunt for Oscars Producer

Newspaper article International New York Times

With TV Ratings Declining, a Lot Is at Stake in Hunt for Oscars Producer

Article excerpt

Previous awards shows have seen a decline in ratings, so the pressure is on for officers and executives of the Academy.

Will the next Academy Awards ceremony be street smart, like the "House Party" movies? Digitally savvy, with a BuzzFeed twist? Or as grandly mainstream as, oh, almost anything Tom Hanks has ever done?

The answer may depend on a talent search that will soon be concluded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

After three consecutive Oscar shows from the producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, officers and executives of the Academy have been quietly examining an intellectually and professionally diverse group of prospects as possible overseers of the next broadcast, set for Feb. 28.

The audience for the 2015 show, of which Neil Patrick Harris was the host, dropped about 14.9 percent, to about 36.6 million viewers from 43 million in 2014. That decline, along with the generally poor reviews the telecast received, added urgency to the Academy's mission to update what has been viewed in recent years as a shopworn entertainment show.

People briefed on the current search said no final decision about the next producer or producers had been reached. An Academy spokeswoman declined to comment on the process, which could accelerate with a planned meeting of the group's governing board on Tuesday.

But several of those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures, said the Academy's president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and executive director, Dawn Hudson, have examined at least a half-dozen possible producers or producing teams, each of which would most likely bring a sharply different approach to the annual awards show. Who remains on the Academy's short list of candidates is not clear, and a wild-card entry remains possible.

Among those who have figured in the search, those people said, is Reginald Hudlin, a writer, director and producer who earned a reputation for raucous urban humor with the "House Party" films, and who was one of the producers of "Django Unchained."

Mr. Hudlin earned his bones as an Academy insider by producing last year's Governors Awards ceremony, an autumn tribute that honored Harry Belafonte, Maureen O'Hara, Hayao Miyazaki and Jean- Claude Carriere.

While Mr. Hudlin and other black filmmakers have been increasingly prominent within the Academy, critics have said the group's membership and tastes do not reflect enough racial diversity. Those claims gained prominence last year when the roster of acting nominees included no black performers, even as "Selma," about Martin Luther King Jr., joined the eight best picture nominees.

Another prospect for the producing job, according to several people, has been Michael Shamberg, a seasoned filmmaker who lately has been helping BuzzFeed Motion Pictures find its way in the movie world. …

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