Take Oscars off TV [Blowback]
Rodger Pardee, associate professor at Loyola Marymount University's School of Film and Television who worked in the film industry as a sound effects editor, responds to an article in The Times. If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
Last week, Patrick Goldstein wrote a lengthy critique of the Oscars in which he urged that the academy get real. Goldstein's complaints are completely valid as long as one assumes that the Academy Awards are first and foremost a TV show. He argues that the ceremonies should be revamped to make for better TV; I would argue that the only way to save the Academy Awards is to quit televising them altogether.
Jump far enough back in time and you might imagine the awards as they once were: a bunch of industry people get together, have a meal, get pleasantly tipsy and make damn fools of themselves in a glamorous setting. At some point, the academy made the fatal error of allowing broadcasts of the event, first on radio, then television. In the early days, the broadcasters were like invited guests, free to observe as long as they didn't ruin it for everyone else.
But over time they in fact did ruin it.
As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I used to eagerly tune in for the awards because I was interested in movie-making, and this seemed like a glimpse into the reality behind the movies themselves. Wow: David Lean!
Years later, when I was actually working in the industry, I could see an ever-increasing gap between the actual celebration of the craft of filmmaking and the content of the Oscar telecast. What did all these embarrassing dance numbers have to do with anything? Why on Earth would anyone write scripted banter for presenters? It has gotten to the point where you can follow media accounts about the pressures of scripting the fakery followed by reviews of the fakery.
Phoniness, by definition, is beyond belief, but this is beyond phoniness. And this goes beyond creating bad TV; it creates bad reality.
Keep pursuing this trend and the conclusion is inescapable: The Oscars have to get amped up to meet the demands of TV. In TV Land, we expect a high recognition factor from our preferred demographic, so let's start by banishing anyone who works behind the camera. If you're not famous already, then no one cares what you've done or what you think. In TV Land, we expect characters to be in jeopardy, so let's have the winners crawl on their bellies under barbed wire and tracers of live ammo if they want to claim those statues. In TV Land, we like our characters flawed: Let's drag celebrities kicking and screaming straight out of rehab and make them park their own cars in a DUI demolition derby. And let's harangue them as they run the red-carpeted gantlet, make snide remarks about their wardrobes, sex lives, and politics. Let's keep them constantly under hot lights because it's so much fun to watch them melt down. But let's fawn over them too because, unfortunately, we need whatever pitiful glamour the stars can project to draw enough glazed eyeballs to please our advertisers — who, after all, are the Masters of Everything.
We have made all this as fake as possible in order to make it suitable for broadcast, and now we are shocked, shocked, that no one wants to watch something that is so nauseatingly phony. But maybe we should quit trying to make it a TV show and make it a real industry event again.
Because no one in their right mind cares what happens in TV Land.