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.
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