Pod: The Oscars "Minefield" About to Happen
Former head writer Bruce Vilanch on what we're about to witness — and some seriously fun A-list dish along the way
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Bruce Vilanch is a legendary Emmy-winning comedy writer, songwriter and actor in Hollywood. He was also a writer for 24 years on the Academy Awards broadcast, spending 14 of those years (2000-2014) as the show’s head writer. Vilanch collaborated with hosts including Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Steve Martin and, of course, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. In this episode of the Ankler Hot Seat podcast, a special bonus edition for Oscar week, Vilanch, who will be watching the Oscars with friends in New York City, joins hosts Janice Min and Richard Rushfield and reveals some of the secrets behind past broadcasts and his thoughts on the challenges of this year’s 94th Academy Awards.
On the overall vibe this year: “The basic landscape is a minefield…comedy generally is where you come out and you don't know who you're going to piss off with anything that you say…the second nervousness will be about proving to the membership, the Academy proving to the membership that this idea (of removing eight below the line awards from the broadcast) works.”
On what went wrong last year: “It had no famous people in the first half-hour. They had Regina King, who came on and immediately went political. So right away people began tuning out because their worst fear had been realized. It was a bunch of political Hollywood types telling you things you know. Her first joke was a BLM joke, and that was it. In the first half-hour, they have, I think, Laura Dern and maybe one other famous person, rather than opening with one of the supporting actor categories, which is what we've always done, because it puts a personality on camera…Soderbergh's idea was to have Aaron Sorkin talk about what it was like to sell popcorn in the theater in Evanston, Illinois. No one gives a shit about I mean, this is a rookie mistake.”
On making Putin jokes: “A lot of people are dead. So I don't know that you can really joke about Putin. I mean, there might be some oblique jokes.”
On COVID jokes: “There’s a tension in the air because of all these super-spreader events…like BAFTA…I wrote the PGA Award show, and we started out with Ciarán Haines, Jamie Dornan and Kenneth Branagh and the kid and everybody wound up sick. Jamie Dornan ended up doing the presentation.”
On the disastrous James Franco-Anne Hathaway year: “Franco was kind of off the wall and he was out of his comfort zone. He was scared. He didn't trust the writers. He asked Judd Apatow to come in and do it, and Judd sent four of his young intern writers and the week before the show, everything was tossed out because nothing was very good….we assumed that two songs from Burlesque would be nominated and that Cher would do one song and Christina Aguilera would do the other. But and as a result, Franco really wanted to do Cher. He does a Cher impression, and he just wanted to get into the whole Cher drag and do it. But then they weren't nominated, the songs were not performed, but he was caught up in the idea of drag. So we finally had him come out as Marilyn Monroe after what was one of the biggest laughs of that particular show.”
The “dirty secret” of why the show is so long: “The dirty little secret is [ABC] doesn't really mind that because it gives them more commercial time to sell. And that's where the money is. And by the way, that's where the licensing fee goes up for the Academy. So the Academy doesn't really mind that the show is as long as it is this year. [But] because of last year they were read a riot act about it's got to come in short, and also I think because they were getting some sponsor…pushback.”
Being Oscar producer: “You cannot win.”
On “woke: culture: “The latest wrinkle is the woke madness…they're so crazed and they're eating their own, you know, they're just eating their young and nuts. It's just nuts.”
Why no one wants to host the Oscars: “If you’re big enough to be considered to host, you don’t need it”
Ratings prediction: “I mean, it certainly will be the the second-lowest broadcast ever.”
Related: Jay-Z’s Oscar Afterparty Debacle
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