UPDATED: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made a lot of noise in August when it announced that Brett Ratner, the director of the Rush Hour series and Tower Heist, would produce the 84th Academy Awards for ABC this February. Lost in all the hubbub, however, was how Don Mischer, an industry veteran when it comes to producing live events for TV, would be doing the show with him. It didn’t fly off the radar for Ratner, however, who acknowledged feeling comfortable about taking the gig because Mischer “is just a pro.”
Perhaps this is one time the Academy should listen to Ratner.
The Academy isn’t exactly left in the lurch now that its star producer has decided to leave. Mischer, a 13-time Emmy winner, is Hollywood’s go-to guy for producing live awards telecasts like the Emmys, Tonys, the People’s Choice Awards, and most recently, the 2011 Oscars (for which he earned an Emmy nomination). And he’s hardly doing the job alone: Michael Seligman signed on this fall as a supervising producer for the 2012 Oscars, due in no small part to his decades of live broadcast experience, including seven previous Oscar telecasts. In short: The Academy won’t find two producers who are more prepared to make a relevant and watchable telecast for February. And yet, the Academy wasted no time in replacing Ratner with Brian Grazer on Wednesday.
The Academy’s decision to even consider replacing Ratner had several network execs thinking the Oscars are wasting their time. Even though the Academy Awards — like the Emmys, or Grammys, or the Tonys — are meant to pay tribute to their respective industries, these are still TV shows that must generate good ratings and justify the high price the networks pay to air them. After all, ABC didn’t pay millions just for the prestige of the airing the Oscars — they need it to do well (if only to charge a premium for those Oscar ads).
“Their mandate of having [to have] someone who has produced movies be a producer on the Oscars is one of the reasons this show has suffered and failed to grow,” gripes one Big Four exec. “It’s a TV show, stupid! Mischer, if allowed, could grow it and make it great. And not just him. There are a handful of event-for-TV producers who could make this show relevant and successful. The Academy just won’t go there.” Adds another high-profile network exec, “Mischer’s a pro. Stop dicking around with gimmicks and make a satisfying show which honors the people and the product.”
Says yet another high-ranking suit, far more colorfully: “As a practical matter they don’t need a bigshot movie producer and can do the show only with a Mischer or a [Ken] Erlich. But as a perception matter … which Hollywood and especially the film business is all about … they don’t want their precious awards event to be sullied by the grubby hands of the TV folk, so they need to bring on one of their geniuses to make sure the broadcast guys know what they’re doing.” (Mischer was not available to comment today.)
If anyone has demonstrated a passion for making a relevant show for viewers, its Mischer — who went toe-to-toe with the TV Academy a few years back about cutting tedious (see: boring) categories from the Emmy telecast. “If the network had it their way… and I don’t care which network it is, you would not be presenting four writing awards and four directing awards on the Emmys, ” Mischer once said. “That’s eight awards given out to people that the audience at home doesn’t really know much about or care about.”
Still, there’s only so much even a guy like Mischer can do. He and the networks didn’t prevail in their quest to eliminate boring categories; regrettably, they are still in the telecast. Still, it was he who — in 2009 and 2010 — organized the Emmys into genres, consolidated and shortened the movies and miniseries section, and produced strong year-in-review package that told a big story. At the very least, he picked up the pace of the show.
Still, the movie producers can bring a great amount of cachet (and innovative ideas) to the Oscars, like Bill Condon’s decision back in 2009 to have past winners pay tribute to nominees in the actor categories. (Granted, it wasn’t a new idea; the Oscars had done it in previous telecasts.)
On the flip side, they can also be responsible for some outright disasters: Producer Bruce Cohen (Milk) was behind the decision to recruit James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts for last year’s Oscars. We all saw how that turned out. Then again, Mischer was a producer and director on last year’s Oscars, too — so he deserves some of the blame. That’s why, in the end, there are some pessimists in town who don’t think any one producer matters to the most important awards show in Hollywood. “Nobody was going to watch the Academy Awards because Brett Ratner was producing,” says another longtime Big Four exec. “They’ll watch to root for the movies they saw. It’s always about the content.”