Pete Hammond

Word is CIM,  the landlord for the Hollywood and Highland complex where the Oscars are held has asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences NOT to announce on air that the awards are coming from the Kodak Theatre. Instead the Academy opening announcement will say it is being broadcast live from Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood, California.  “That is what the landlord has asked us to do and we are gonna do it,”  said Academy President Tom Sherak during a pre-taping  of KABC’s local public affairs show, Eyewitness Newsmakers (airing this Sunday). CIM has been trying to find a replacement for Kodak which won the right last week to back out of their multi-million dollar naming agreement for the theatre in which the Oscars and other events such as Cirque Du Soleil’s  Iris  take place.

When I spoke to Sherak over the weekend to discuss progress for this year’s show he re-emphasized the Academy has nothing to do with who will take over the name of the theatre except for veto rights . He told me they would never hold back approval as long as it’s not some completely inappropiate name that would clash with the Academy’s image. In other words don’t expect to hear , “Live from the Hooters Theatre , welcome to the Academy Awards”.   Sherak also reiterated his previous statement that as of now the Academy is  only currently negotiating with CIM  regarding where the Oscars will be held after next year’s show, but is in no hurry to decide. Clearly they have a lot of leverage now that Kodak has pulled out of its deal. ”You can imagine we have a lot of interest from other venues but right now we are only talking to CIM,”  he says.

Sherak says he is quite pleased with the direction this year’s Oscarcast, under producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer, is taking so far but I asked if he was worried that they could conceivably come in second in the ratings to the Grammy Awards for the first time ever.   The Academy Awards are routinely the highest rated entertainment special of the year usually drawing an audience second only to the Super Bowl. They have never been usurped by another awards show but on February 12th the Grammys drew nearly 40 million viewers (second highest ever for the music show) due to interest sparked by Whitney Houston’s sudden death the day before. That’s higher than several Oscar broadcasts of the last decade including last year’s critically drubbed show. And since having a rooting interest in the movies nominated is often key to ratings, it’s a warning sign that only one of the nine nominated Best Pictures (The Help) grossed more than $100 million at the box office. Sherak was sanguine about it. “It’s true we don’t have any $300 million movies but there are some real horse races. Look the Grammys was the best concert show I have seen in a long time. I watched it and I am not the audience. It was a great concert. We are an awards show,” he said confidently predicting a large tune-in thanks to host Billy Crystal and those tight races in high profile acting categories. “We are going to do the best show possible. And I can tell you our research indicates there is a lot of interest in seeing Billy host. I have seen some of the show so far and it’s smart and funny and our new writers have made a big difference.”

He’s confident viewers will definitely tune in for Billy’s opening and their mission is to keep them there for the whole show. One way they will do that is with comedy, just as Grazer promised when I spoke to him right after the nominations announcement. Among the  presenters named so far are Will Ferrell, Zach Galfianakis, Tina Fey, Ben Stiller , Chris Rock, Kermit and Miss Piggy and of course the host, Crystal all designed to keep the laughs coming.  There’s also a high quotient of star power among presenters too including Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie , Tom Hanks , Jennifer Lopez and Michael Douglas among others. And with high profile superstar nominees like Brad Pitt , George Clooney and Meryl Streep  in the ”Hollywood and Highland Center” theatre   Sherak is happy. “One thing is certain. We are not gonna have a problem figuring out who to cut to in the audience,” he says.

And he’s also promising some strong musical elements even as I pointed out the producers have decided not to let the two song nominees, Real In Rio  and Man Or Muppet be performed  on the show, a decision that caused a big outcry on the internet. “It is true we won’t be performing the song nominees but that is not the first time that’s happened,”  he says . That’s true but one of the two times the songs were jettisoned was the infamous Allan Carr-produced Oscars , generally considered the worst in history.  Sherak says conductor Hans Zimmer has created a great sound for the show and that there will be a big orchestra pit for the first time in a few years. He is also excited that Cirque Du Soleil is creating a special “one time only” performance for the show with the largest number of Cirque performers ever gathered together.  Since Cirque also has a long running show , Iris at Hollywood and Highland I asked if this appearance was a tie-in and attempt to cross plug that show but he says one has nothing to do with the other.

For Sherak it’s full steam ahead and ABC is heavily promoting the big night.  In fact every night this week, Uggie the dog star of Best Picture front runner , The Artist  is appearing on the network’s Jimmy Kimmel late night show to pick the winners of the top categories (he’s also taped a bit with Crystal for the Oscars). On Tuesday’s show the photos of the  five nominees for Best Actor were placed on the floor with hot dogs on top of each one.  Uggie went straight for George Clooney without hesitation , even bypassing his own co-star Jean Dujardin. Is that a sign?

Hey, maybe the ratings would go through the roof if we let dogs decide the winners instead of the Academy.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.