Eddie Murphy as Oscar host: Will he really be a difference maker?
Does the Oscar host really matter much anymore?
Is he or she basically a traffic cop after a big opening flourish to start the proceedings? Or can a deft host with an ability to ad lib on the fly make the show go on without it seeming to go on and on and on before the climactic big prizes are awarded?
The latest choice, Eddie Murphy, came out of nowhere after Oscar organizers flailed about in recent years in hopes of stemming ratings shrinkage.
The following year brought Hugh Jackman in an effort to restore some Hollywood glamour and respect after Stewart's merciless twitting.
Then came the middle-aged duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, the first co-hosts since the 1987 telecast. But Oscar's brain trust worried that the show's audience was getting older and older. So last year brought the youthful "new Hollywood" pair of Anne Hathaway and James Franco, neither of whom had hosted anything before. She tried hard and he hardly seemed to care. And the ratings drooped anew.
Murphy, now 50, was once the brash heavy hitter of Saturday Night Live before embarking on a film career that brought him instant success in the Beverly Hills Cop movies. But that was quite a long time ago, and Murphy since has become a part of "Old Hollywood" while struggling to recover from a string of big-screen bombs. He's best known lately as the voice of the donkey in theShrek franchise.
"Eddie is a comedic genius, one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever," Oscar show co-producer Brett Ratner said in a statement on the day Murphy was officially announced as host. Not coincidentally, Ratner is the director of Murphy's latest feature film, Tower Heist, due in theaters this November. That kinda smells, doesn't it?
Murphy has been notoriously media un-friendly over the years, declining to promote his films via the usual round of TV interviews while also being a no-show at several big Saturday Night Live cast reunions. And at the 2007 Oscar ceremonies, he left in a perceived bad sport rush immediately after Alan Arkin won the best supporting actor trophy. Murphy had been considered the favorite for his widely praised supporting performance in Dreamgirls, but some Academy members may well have held personal grudges against him. Murphy might be a comedic legend of sorts, but he's hardly a beloved figure in Hollywood circles. That also could work against him on next year's Feb. 26th Oscar-cast, when he'll be on his biggest television stage ever.
The debate is already on as to whether Murphy has lost his fastball or still possesses his standup skills. That certainly makes him an attention-getting host in times when perhaps Oscar might be better served with a little of that old-time continuity.
Billy Crystal, who joins Bob Hope and Johnny Carson in the holy trinity of classic Oscar hosts, is the last one to repeat himself. Crystal hosted the 1997 and '98 ceremonies. And before that, he had a string of four straight appearance from 1989 through 1992. He reportedly was willing to have another go at it, but organizers decided otherwise.
Viewers grew accustomed to Crystal's opening song montages spoofing the year's big films. He also was a deft ad libber throughout the night, as were Hope and Carson. Their off-the-cuff zingers added extra spice to a show that often needs it when the night's big winners already seem set in stone.
Still, we remember the Oscars most for the acceptance speeches, the fashion and in 1974 a streaker who inspired a memorable ad lib from co-host David Niven on his "shortcomings."
In the end, a good, great or mediocre host can only do so much to liven or deaden the proceedings. But they certainly get reviewed, as Franco well knows after his seemingly disinterested efforts made him a prime target for several weeks running.
For better or worse, Murphy won't go quietly into the night. Can he turn the Oscars into a tonic for a faltering film career, perhaps even earning a return invitation in 2013? Or might he purely and simply embarrass himself? The Academy Awards still provide a host of reasons to watch. This time the host could well be paramount among them.