Join Nikki Finke at 5:30 PM PT for her annual Oscar Live-Snarking!

EXCLUSIVE: What is maybe the most anticipated Academy Awards in recent memory is also mutating into what could be one of the longest Oscars in Hollywood history. I can feel a yawnfest coming on already. Sources tells me that last week the show clocked in at 3 hours and 40 minutes. Then it was shortened. But now the telecast doesn’t even commence presenting the Best Picture Oscar until after 3 hours and 23 minutes. And that’s only if everything goes according to schedule – which it never does. The telecast’s opening number lasts a full 15 minutes in what is the prelude to the most music-filled Academy Awards ever. So this could easily become an Oscar ceremony lasting 4-plus hours. (The longest on record is 4 hours, 23 minutes in 2002.) That’s not good news for longtime Academy Awards broadcaster ABC whose research demonstrates that, after 11 PM East Coast Time, the network loses 100,000 people per minute. That could hurt ratings for Sunday’s show which contains more suspense than in recent years. At around $1.7 million to $1.8 million for a 30-second spot, the Disney-owned ABC has sold out its ad inventory at prices higher than the network has charged since 2008 when the economy started to tank.

I’m usually in the habit of proclaiming doom and gloom every time these marquee Hollywood awards celebrate the movie season. But not this time around. Because I don’t anticipate a snorefest. Rarely have so many of the 24 categories including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplays, and more been up for grabs. Is it Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Chastain or the 85-year-old French star Emmanuelle Riva of Amour? Is it Steven Spielberg or Ang Lee or dark horse David O Russell? Is it Argo or Lincoln or shocker Silver Linings Playbook? Nobody knows for sure.

Another rarity is that moviegoers across North America and many markets overseas actually have seen tonight’s nominated films and performances. That’s because 6 of the 9 Best Picture contenders have grossed over $100 million domestically and a 7th is close. (By contrast, last year’s winner The Artist only grossed $44M all in, and 2009 victor The Hurt Locker just $17M.) Every major studio has product in contention. And independent studio The Weinstein Company has two solid grossing pics in the mix.

Given all this good news, the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is daring to hope that tonight’s show will be a rare ratings blowout. It’s possible. Last year’s telecast was up a slight 4% from 2011 and the second most watched Oscars in the past half decade with 39.3 million viewers. But one problem is that TV toon creator Seth MacFarlane isn’t a familiar face to American audiences. Though his global hit movie Ted is – and Universal is paying for the foul-mouthed teddy bear to appear alongside Mark Wahlberg. The Academy is trying on the telecast to promote popular pics barely nominated for Oscars. So 5 members of last summer’s mega-blockbuster Marvel’s The Avengers will present Oscars at the Dolby Theater tonight.

But the show’s producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron have many musicals on their resumes. Wjich is why they’ve planned a tribute to the movie musicals of the past decade, including their own Best Picture winner Chicago featuring an on-stage reunion of Catherine Zeta Jones, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah and Richard Gere. Jennifer Hudson will reprise Dreamgirls, and odds are big that Barbra Streisand will sing The Way We Were as a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch.

Grammy-winner Adele will be part of the James Bond special celebrating 50 years of the spy film franchise. I’ve learned it was impossible to get all the actors who played 007 together on one stage because of various behind-the-scenes fusses and feuds over the years. All in all there are so many performers scheduled that there’s a shortage of dressing rooms. And if even a few participants are a minute or two late hitting a mark, then this show’s length could wind up in the history books.

Here’s the rundown of tonight’s awards from Yair Raveh whose popular Israeli film blog cinemascope.co.il gets it right year after year:

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
5:45:09 PT
ANIMATED SHORT FILM
5:54:06 PT
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
5:56:18 PT
CINEMATOGRAPHY
6:05:13 PT
VISUAL EFFECTS
6:07:43 PT
COSTUME DESIGN
6:14:53 PT
MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
6:17:14 PT
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
6:30:40 PT
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
6:32:59 PT
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
6:41:32 PT
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
6:48:07 PT
SOUND MIXING
7:08:52 PT
SOUND EDITING
7:14:17 PT
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
7:19:12 PT
FILM EDITING
7:31:00 PT
PRODUCTION DESIGN
7:47:02 PT
INTRO IN MEMORIAM
7:56:45 PT
IN MEMORIAM PACKAGE & PERFORMANCE
8:00:15 PT
ORIGINAL SCORE
8:08:13 PT
ORIGINAL SONG
8:17:16 PT
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
8:22:42 PT
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
8:25:16 PT
DIRECTING
8:32:33 PT
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
8:39:57 PT
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
8:46:29 PT
BEST PICTURE
8:53:29 PT

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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