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ABC's new programming chief says controversy could be good for Oscars

ABC's new programming chief says controversy could be good for Oscars
ABC says the popularity of 2019 Oscar best-picture nominees such as "Bohemian Rhapsody," starring Rami Malek, could be good for the telecast's ratings.

PASADENA, Calif. – ABC's new programming chief says the controversy surrounding this year's Oscars telecast has actually been good for the show.

The naming and quick exit of Kevin Hart as host; a planned but abandoned new category for popular movies; uncertainty about whether best-song nominees will perform; and complaints about its length and declining ratings have kept the Feb. 24 telecast in the public eye, says Karey Burke.

"Ironically, I have found that the lack of clarity around the Oscars have kept the Oscars in the conversation," she told the Television Critics Association Tuesday. "It's evidence of how relevant the Oscars still are, that people are still talking about these things and caring about these things."

Unlike other awards shows, ABC has little control over the Oscars despite a hefty price tag, as the year's biggest trophy fest is firmly in the grip of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told the Television Critics Association that controversy (and more popular best-picture nominees) could be good for Oscars ratings.

Still, Burke boldly predicted that, after last year's record-low 26.5 million viewers, nominees like "Black Panther," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Star is Born" will draw crowds. "We’re going to see a big turnout for this (year), because these are big popular movies that are nominated.

No host? No problem, Burke said, suggesting that the exit of the comedian after earlier controversial anti-gay remarks surfaced – and the absence of a host for the first time since 1989 – would help speed up the show, which sometimes clocks in at nearly four hours. Potential winners were told at an Oscar nominees luncheon Monday to keep their speeches to 90 seconds.

After Hart dropped his plans to host, "it was pretty clear we were going to stay the course, that we were just going to have presenters host the Oscars and we all got on board with that pretty quickly," Burke said. "The goal was to keep the show within three hours, so producers decided wisely not to have a host and to just have presenters."

However, she said all best-song nominees will be performed, reversing a rumored earlier plan, though she wouldn't confirm specifically who will sing. "I don’t think I am allowed to say without the Academy."

And Burke conceded that "ratings for all awards shows are down," adding the genre "is challenged, something we have to vigilant about (to) stay relevant at a pace and length that will bring an audience."

Oscar nominations: Meet the top contenders

Oscars are here! See which actors, directors and films were nominated for the 91th annual Academy Awards, which will be handed out Feb. 24.
Best picture: "BlacKkKlansman"
Best picture: “Black Panther”
Best picture: "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Best picture: "The Favourite"
Best picture: "Green Book"
Best picture: "Roma"
Best picture: "A Star Is Born"
Best picture: "Vice"
Actress: Yalitza Aparicio, "Roma"
Actress: Glenn Close, "The Wife"
Actress: Olivia Colman, "The Favourite"
Actress: Lady Gaga, "A Star Is Born"
Actress: Melissa McCarthy, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Actor: Christian Bale, "Vice"
Actor: Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Actor: Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Actor: Rami Malek, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Actor: Viggo Mortensen, "Green Book"
Supporting actress: Amy Adams, "Vice"
Supporting actress: Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Supporting actress: Regina King, "If Beale Street Could Talk"
Supporting actress: Emma Stone, "The Favourite"
Supporting actress: Rachel Weisz, "The Favourite"
Supporting actor: Mahershala Ali, "Green Book"
Supporting actor: Adam Driver, "BlacKkKlansman"
Supporting actor: Sam Elliott, "A Star Is Born"
Supporting actor: Richard E. Grant, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Supporting actor: Sam Rockwell, "Vice"
Director: Alfonso Cuaron, "Roma"
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Director: Spike Lee, "BlacKkKlansman"
Director: Adam McKay, "Vice"
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
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