UPDATED THURSDAY PM: Sunday night’s Academy Awards telecast could end up the longest on record. That’s the prediction I’ve been given by one VIP who helps oversee this 79th Oscars and is therefore in a position to know. Sad but probably true, since this year’s producer is Laura Ziskin (Spider-Man) who was responsible for bringing in the 74th show at what was then a record 4 hours and 23 minutes. Yikes, is the Academy trying to drive away TV viewers? But I’ve also received a phone call tonight from an insider working on the show assuring me that today’s rehearsal clocked in at only 3 hours, 41 minutes long. “Right now, the show is cutting, cutting, cutting. We’re chipping away at the package,” the insider explained, saying the producers are determined to bring it in at under 4 hours. (Haven’t we all heard that before…) The year of Ziskin’s record-setting lengthy telecast, the Academy gave away each of its three testimonial awards: the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and the Honorary Award for lifetime achievement. After that fiasco, the Academy decreed that no more than two testimonial awards could be presented in any year. This time around, two of the three testimonials will be handed out: Sherry Lansing, the former chairman of Paramount, will receive the Hersholt, and composer-conductor Ennio Morricone will receive the Honorary. These ceremonies eat up broadcast time. That is what’s leading some to predict a too-long show, along with the very elaborate musical production numbers built around all the Dreamgirls‘ songs which are nominated. Today, a few celeb presenters attended the run-through at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. Friday, the musical numbers will be practiced. Saturday, almost all the presenters show up for their rehearsal. (This was when stars would pick up their swag, thus ensuring their presence. But the Academy canceled its Oscar gift baskets after the IRS demanded unpaid taxes on them. This year, there are retreats and experiences for the glitterati.) Then Sunday is the show itself. I’m told that, although ABC would love to snip-snip, the network can’t exert any real influence over the length of the show because it already has a long-term contract with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I think ABC should pay AMPAS more to shorten the telecast. At the very least, the Academy should bring in an actual TV producer to revamp the show. (Imagine what Mr. Reality TV himself, Mark Burnett, would do: Losers leave immediately for Exile Island.) The Emmys just hired American Idol‘s producers and directors for its awards show. Little wonder that in most foreign countries, the Oscars are pared to a one-hour telecast.
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