Oscar No-Thank-You Speeches

Seth MacFarlane and Tina Fey already are saying no to next year. When did hosting the Academy Awards become a thankless job?

85th Academy Awards - Show
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Seth MacFarlane and Tina Fey, two very funny people who share little else than a fondness for cutaway gags, both offered the same two-word response this week when asked about hosting the Oscars next year: "No way." 

MacFarlane's "no way" tweet seemed more motivated by post-Oscars exhaustion than by any controversy over his at-times irreverent Sunday night performance, during which he comically anointed Fey and her Golden Globes hosting teammate Amy Poehler as his successors. Fey, meanwhile, begged off with a "no way,” quipping to the The Huffington Post that “the amount of months that would be spent trying on dresses alone” was too much.
The similar reactions conveyed the sad truth about Oscar humor: Hosting a show filled with thank-you speeches has become a thankless task.
Just ask David Letterman, whose 1995 shot at the world stage ("Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah.") earned him perhaps the worst reviews of his career. Oscar hosting triumphs also have eluded other top talents, among them Jon Stewart and Chris Rock.
James Franco’s multifaceted career has become defined, in some respects, by his somnambulant performance in 2011, and it took winning an Academy Award Sunday for his perkier partner Anne Hathaway to put their dual disaster behind her. Even greatest living Oscars host Billy Crystal couldn't quite conjure the old magic last year as a late-in-the-game fill-in for Eddie Murphy, a great pick for the job.
The scarcity of entertainers well known and witty enough (musical ability a plus) to jump in to the Oscars shark tank limits the hosting pool. Judging by MacFarlane and Fey’s reluctance, another barrier is finding a big star willing to work for weeks on what's essentially a 15-minute opening act rife with outsized expectations and critics ready to tweet any misfires in real-time.
The choice of MacFarlane, who offended some with his “Family Guy”-honed brand of bawdy humor, likely was inspired by the caustic barbs Ricky Gervais hurled during the Golden Globes from 2010 to 2012. But even the now buzz-worthy Globes, as Fey, no doubt will tell you, is a far more relaxed affair, in terms of prep time and audience expectations.
Assuming MacFarlane or Fey don’t have a change of heart, there are few obvious candidates for the 2014 Academy Awards hosting slot. “Parks and Recreation” star Poehler could go solo. Stephen Colbert and Conan O'Brien are very funny on the fly, and have some musical chops. Jimmy Kimmel's post-awards "Movie: The Movie" star-studded trailer spoof has proven as entertaining as anything else on Oscars night, two years running.
The best bet, though, might be Jimmy Fallon who showed during the 2010 Emmy Awards – and shows night-in-and-night-out on “Late Night” – that’s he a strong comic and musical performer (his “Glee”-meets-Springsteen Emmys number marked the best opening of any awards show in recent years). He’s also likeable enough to win over the harshest critics – the kind of guy polite enough to write a thank-you note after taking on what’s become the most thankless high-profile job in show biz.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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