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John Doyle

Hollywood has forgotten how to put on a show

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Call me cranky, but the Academy Awards have become an excruciating bore.

Last night, the heavily hyped new host Chris Rock didn't shock or rock. Self-conscious and clearly nervous, he made some mild jokes about U.S. President George W. Bush, and unleashed a few titter-inducing zingers about celebrities. If this was supposed to shake up the Oscars as a TV spectacle, it was a lame attempt.

Mr. Rock got a standing ovation from the crowd in the Kodak Theatre, presumably as an endorsement of his allegedly hard-hitting style after the spurious controversy about the decision to have him as host. The controversy, the endorsement and Mr. Rock's act were all as ludicrously low-grade and lame as this year's movies.

The other innovations were equally silly and slight. In the early going, some nominees appeared on stage, rather than sitting in the audience.

The appearance on stage of the nominees for what are known in the biz as "the geek awards" — the editing and sound awards — just made them look truly geeky, as gang after gang of middle-aged men stood around on stage looking less than glamorous.

Cate Blanchett presented an award from the auditorium rather than the stage; the winners accepted at a microphone near their seats, not on the stage. It looked like somebody at the academy had attended a town hall meeting somewhere and decided that the open-mike style was a whiz-bang idea. It only served to remind viewers that Hollywood has forgotten how to put on a show.

As for Mr. Rock, the tribute to Johnny Carson last night merely underlined his amateurish style and delivery. Few could deliver a zinger like Mr. Carson, and Mr. Rock sure failed with the zippy delivery.

Moments of true comedy were rare and accidental. The British-born winner of the Oscar for short film, live action described the award as "the dog's bollocks," a profanity that made it through the seven-second delay device, because English slang is a foreign language in Hollywood.

Canadian Chris Landreth, accepting an Oscar for the animated short film Ryan, duly thanked the various levels of Canadian bureaucracy, in a very Canadian moment.

This year, in particular, the bloated banality of the frock festival and the awards show itself was all too obvious. The nominated movies were mediocre and the hours of TV commentary were filled with mundane babbling. Oscar night has expanded and expanded to the point where last night's television coverage lasted about seven straight hours. Nothing in show business is so interesting that it warrants seven hours of live television coverage.

At 5 p.m., CTV began its excitable coverage, the awards show itself began at 8:30 and lasted until near midnight. So, just after 5 p.m., there was Ben Mulroney on CTV, dressed in what appeared to be his first communion suit, and beside him was Tanya Kim, in her prom dress, apparently. Their first bulletin told us that a bomb-sniffing dog had walked by. Then there was a deeply uninteresting bit about a woman from Sudbury, Ont., named Cheryl, who organizes the post-Oscar Governor's ball.

Up on some balcony, also working for CTV, Beverly Thomson and David Giamarco babbled about the nominees. Then, things went beyond ridiculous. Viewers were treated to a long story about how Tanya and Bev chose their dresses, and Ben and David got their suits. Just in case some nitwit really, really needed to know. Then David asked, "Ben what are your thoughts on the movie Ray?" Regrettably, some technical glitch prevented the answer from being forthcoming.

If anyone wants a key reason why the public is less interested in the Oscars these days, it's right there — the Academy Awards used to be about movie stars, but now the event is about some prattling TV reporters talking about their own clothes. Tanya Kim is not a film star, she just acts like one, and anyone can see the childish egotism in the petty preening.

In fact, the only real joy in watching the Academy Awards these days is in seeing the mistakes and cringe-inducing moments that live TV provides.

Star Jones and Kathy Griffin provided the live coverage on the E! Channel, carried in Canada by CITY-TV stations. Gone are the days of Joan and Melissa Rivers babbling incoherently but sarcastically about Hollowed glitterati. The Rivers gals decamped to a channel that we don't get in Canada.

Worse luck. Instead of Joan Rivers making self-deprecating remarks about her plastic surgery, viewers had Griffin doing unspeakably unfunny routines. She kept doing this un-amusing bit where she pretended to talk to celebrities on her cellphone.

Meanwhile, Puff Daddy or P. Diddy, or whatever his name is these days, gave Mr. Mulroney the brush-off and talked to Ms. Jones. They talked about Jamie Foxx and how great he is.Apart from rare bits of wit, it was hours and hours of skinny women in bland dresses looking glazed, dazed and talking like illiterates. The low point of the night was surely when Ms. Jones interviewed Oprah Winfrey. "Look at you!" Ms. Jones said. "Look at you!" Ms. Winfrey said in return. On and on this went for ages. Yep, look at them, looking at each other. That's not a show.That's seven wasted hours we won't get back.

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