While pundits continue to offer their postmortems for the Oscars, and James Franco continues to print out his critical jibes and paste them onto a 12-foot papier-mâché sculpture he’s titled “The Weeping Wall,” Academy president Tom Sherak sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to offer his own take on things—a decidedly “whaddayawant from me” shrug of contrition tempered by a lot of spin. For example, while Sherak admits that “the chemistry seemed to be off” between the ironically detached Franco and the supercalifragilistic Anne Hathaway—saying, “Franco is a very charming guy, but sometimes you need a comic to make fun of things”—he also blames the 9-percent decline in overall ratings on the movies themselves. “We didn't have an Avatar or a Titanic this year,” he says, adding that if next year should see an equally huge film, the viewership will go up. Not that he thinks things were all that bad: “You can say we failed,” he says. "I'd say we still got 38 million people.” Unfortunately, of those 38 million people, few of them were the demographically desirable young audience they were hoping for—and whom Franco and Hathaway were explicitly hired to attract. The average age in viewers actually rose to 50.6 this year.
Nevertheless, Sherak stands by the decision to hire Franco and Hathaway, subtly placing the blame for it on those same critics who’d mocked the ceremony for becoming old and staid in the first place. “Go back and look at what these same critics have written,” Sherak said. “'The Academy is afraid to take chances' and 'if the Academy doesn't get younger, they'll be off the air.' So when the producers came and said, 'We've got an idea,' we said, 'Great.' We tried something.” Yeah, at least they tried. What televised awards ceremonies have you staged lately, Mr. Critic?
But perhaps most telling of all is the comment from an unnamed “high-ranking Academy member,” who laments the fact that the choice of host is left up to a small committee formed by the Academy president and the producers: “A lot of us said Franco, who is a good actor, is the wrong guy when it was announced," the anonymous source said. "We questioned the TV value of both hosts, and it turned out to be right." Unfortunately, in addition to being the product of desperate groupthink, it sounds like Franco and Hathaway may have ended up on the Kodak stage simply because they were one of the few who said yes: The article reports that several stars like Will Smith and Robert Downey Jr. (whom some have been championing as a potential host for years now) turned it down, leaving them to continue moving down the list. In Sherak’s words, “People don't want to do it. They don't want to take the chance of hurting themselves. In today's world especially, it is vicious.” Hey, he’s talking about you, Internet. Basically, if you make fun of The Who, you’re going to end up with the Black Eyed Peas, we guess.
However, Sherak does admit that the method of choosing host by committee is a “bad idea,” saying, “You will never have everybody agree. There is no Bob Hope anymore.” Except, as this year’s Oscars proved, there is a Bob Hope—and unlike Will Smith, he can't say no. All you have to do is drag him out of his grave digitally and overdub his voice. And if the Academy is apparently making its decisions based on extreme reactions to outside criticisms, don’t be surprised to see this latest round lead to an all-reanimated-dead-person ceremony next year.