McFarlane aims to perk up stodgy awards

LOS ANGELES (AP) — You think the Academy Awards are boring? Try the nominations. They only last a few minutes, but it’s generally a sleepy academy suit and a sleepy starlet droning a list of names at 5:30 in the morning.

Except last time. Some baby-faced guy took the stage, advised people who don’t know him to pretend he’s Donny Osmond, then stood beside sleepy starlet Emma Stone and cut loose with this line about best-picture nominee “Amour”:

“I read ‘Amour’ was co-produced in Austria and Germany, right? The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something, it was Hitler.”

For good or bad, Oscar host Seth MacFarlane already has enlivened the awards scene. As emcee of a broadcast notorious for its predictability and geezer audience, MacFarlane may bring a cheekiness that prods younger viewers to check out the Oscars just to see what he might pull. But given his Hitler wisecrack, just how far will MacFarlane push it?

The most-beloved Oscar hosts — Billy Crystal, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope — are those who play it safe while managing to poke gentle fun at Hollywood, the awards and the nominees. With TV ratings generally declining over the last few decades, Oscar overseers have tried shaking things up, trying out new hosts and different ways of handing out prizes.

The results have been mixed. Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres earned polite praise as Oscar hosts. Chris Rock ruffled feathers with a few tart jabs but was mostly respectful.

Anne Hathaway and James Franco, were brought in two years ago to court young viewers. Hathaway was cute and perky, but Franco seemed to sleepwalk through the show. So last year, Oscar organizers lured back old stand-by Crystal, the most-popular among hosts of recent years.

The show’s audience has inched up from its all-time low five years ago, when 32 million people watched the Oscars. But ratings remain well below the Oscar heyday of decades ago, and no matter who’s the host, the show has never been able to shed its image as a marathon broadcast where rich and famous people hand out trophies to other rich and famous people.

Enter MacFarlane, who’s not just a funny guy but a gifted singer, with a Frank Sinatra-style album of standards to his credit.

“What I’m hoping for — like everybody else, the other billion people watching — is just that it’s the best show of all time and he’s the greatest host ever to have lived,” said former emcee Jackman, a best-actor nominee for “Les Miserables.” ”He’s going to nail it. I think he’s very funny.”

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