Saturday, December 10, 2005

REV: First Big Mistake . . .

Chris Rock Won't Be Oscars Host Next Year
By SHARON WAXMAN, The New York Times, December 10, 2005

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 9 - The comedian Chris Rock, who gave the often staid Academy Awards a jolt this year by mocking movie stars and taking a camera crew into a black neighborhood to talk to moviegoers, will not be returning as host of next year's Academy Awards, his spokesman said.

"He didn't want to do it in perpetuity," said Matt Labov, Mr. Rock's publicist. "He'd like to do it again down the road."

Gil Cates, who is producing the awards program for the 13th time, would not confirm the decision, saying only that he had not yet chosen a host and that Mr. Rock did a "great job" this year. He said he would announce his choice for the March 5 broadcast on ABC before the end of the year.

The irreverent, often profane Mr. Rock has a mainstream television hit this fall, "Everybody Hates Chris," a UPN show based on his childhood. But he was considered a bold choice as an Oscar host, hired to bring a youthful, more energetic pace to the sometimes plodding ceremony, which can run close to four hours. He did so, bringing the show to a close in just three hours.

The ratings for the Academy Awards dipped by about 5 percent from 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research, but that was far less of a decline than a year earlier; the 2004 broadcast had 21 percent fewer viewers than in 2003, earning its lowest rating since Nielsen began keeping score in 1974. It was also less of a decline than other award shows in 2005, including the Golden Globes, whose ratings plummeted by 40 percent.

But if Mr. Rock held the audience steady, he also ruffled the sensibilities of some members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by calling the ceremony "idiotic" in an interview before the program, and then skewering such movie stars as Jude Law and Colin Farrell when he took the stage.

"They like to say there's over 100 stars out tonight," said Mr. Rock, to a hall filled with Hollywood's upper crust and a worldwide television audience. "No, there's not. There's only four real stars. The rest are just popular people. Clint Eastwood is a star. That's a star. Tobey Maguire is just a boy in tights."

Mr. Rock also took a camera crew to a Magic Johnson theater in Los Angeles, where he asked patrons if they had seen any of the five best-picture nominees; most had seen none of them. In the aftermath of the show, some Academy members - a notoriously solemn bunch - complained that Mr. Rock had focused on stand-up comedy more than the movies. At the awards, Sean Penn was moved to defend Mr. Law as "one of our finest actors" when he came to the stage to present an award.

Sid Ganis, president of the Motion Picture Academy, acknowledged that some members complained about Mr. Rock but said that others praised his performance. This year "we want to do the right job in honoring the artist, and to make an entertaining show," he said.

The decision not to go with Mr. Rock leaves a small pool of other likely candidates, among them Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg, all former Oscar hosts. Whoever takes the job does so after a year when the industry has been shaken by a declining box office, and when no one movie is expected to dominate the awards.

Among the movies considered likely to win major nominations are "Brokeback Mountain," starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger; "Munich," starring Eric Bana; "Walk the Line," starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon; and "Memoirs of a Geisha," starring Ziyi Zhang.

On the whole, Academy Award viewership has been on the decline since 1998, when the blockbuster "Titanic" helped draw 55 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That year, "Titanic" won 11 Oscars. Even so, the Oscar broadcast remains one of the highest-rated network shows of the year and a valuable magnet for advertising dollars.

Mr. Cates said whoever he chooses as host will need to reflect the mood of the country.

"I'm trying to get a handle on what it is this year, and it's a tough year to get a handle on," he said. "The movies are broad; there are big movies, small movies. I have to get my hands around what this year is like."

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