Seth MacFarlane claims he’s expecting to get beaten up over his performance as the host of the Oscars on Sunday (6:30 p.m., ABC/Channel 4). And he insists he isn’t going to worry about the “ruthless bit of scrutiny” he’ll be under.
He sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself.
“When was the last time you read a post-Oscars review where somebody in the entertainment press said, ‘What a great host!’ ” MacFarlane said.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that the writer/producer of everything from “Family Guy” to “Ted” isn’t an experienced performer. The last Oscar host who wasn’t primarily a performer was director Joseph L. Mankiewicz — in 1956. And he co-hosted with Jerry Lewis and Claudette Colbert.
MacFarlane is being thrown into the fire hosting a show that, last year, was seen by 39 million Americans. It’s a huge stage on which to shine. Or fall flat. “You go into it knowing that even if you put on the greatest show in the world, you’re probably going to be lambasted in the press,” MacFarlane said. “So you might as well enjoy yourself.”
Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan — themselves first-timers for the Oscars show — picked MacFarlane “because he is relevant to an audience today,” Meron said. “He is the next step in terms of making the show current.”
“Current” is code for “younger.” ABC and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are desperate to reverse the trend that finds older viewers tuning in to see the Oscars and younger viewers tuning out.
“It’s not about getting a younger audience, it’s about getting the whole audience,” insisted AMPAS president Hawk Koch, without convincing anyone. “There are an awful lot of other awards shows all over the place, but there’s only one Oscars. And we want to keep it that way.”
To that end, they hired MacFarlane to host the show and bring the “Family Guy” viewers with him. And MacFarlane insisted he’s going to do it his way without worrying about how anyone judges his performance.
But when MacFarlane hosted the Oscar nomination announcements on live TV on Jan. 10, as a member of the Television Critics Association I was in the Beverly Hills audience. After the broadcast, when I told MacFarlane his Hitler joke was blowing on Twitter, his first instinct was to defend it. To point out that Monty Python was making Hitler jokes four decades ago.
“I’m sure there will be a few things at the Oscars that will generate a little bit of buzz in that regard,” he said. “Hopefully not too excessive. But our goal is to mix it up a little bit.”
And the seemingly devil-may-care MacFarlane had a question when told the Hitler joke was getting attention on Twitter, both pro and con.
“More pro than con?” he asked.
You can bet MacFarlane will be reading his reviews on Monday.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.