(Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif)
Jimmy Kimmel is hours away from strolling in to one of the toughest performance evaluations in showbiz: Oscar host. The late night star told Variety that shortly after he was tapped for the gig, he shared the news with his wife with the same clenched cautiousness a person would use to break the news of a car wreck.
Part of that was shtick, mind you; approaching everything with a smidgen of a disconsolate air is Kimmel’s signature, brandished to humorous effect on his ABC late night show. “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” viewers know he’s a showman, just one who always looks slightly uncomfortable in his suit.
In the pantheon of Oscar, this sets Kimmel up to be the human equivalent of Valium. Spending time with him will be pleasant. He’s easy to laugh with and doesn’t get in the way of whatever happens to be in your face. If he stumbles, people probably won’t care all that much. Not with all the beautiful people to ogle.
Weeks, if not days, after this year’s Oscars are in the books, Kimmel’s missteps will be all but forgotten and most of what we’ll remember are the night’s biggest victors. Should Sunday night fall together thusly, Kimmel will have triumphed.
That said, opinion as to what goes into a successful, effective awards show hosting experience varies wildly and depends upon how each show’s chosen ringmaster chooses to treat his or her job.
The Oscars are Hollywood’s greatest holiday, a celebration of haute couture and self-congratulation as actors fine-tune aggrandizing speeches about the vital importance of film, and the industry that made them famous. The best hosts find a balance between popping those glistening bubbles of braggadocio and giving them more air to help them sail.
Kimmel handily struck that balance when he hosted the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards which aired on ABC, the network home of Sunday’s Oscars telecast. As I wrote back then, his comedic accessibility lent the telecast a welcome measure of agility, moving everything along with hosting style that was edgy at times but never unkind. This represented a drastic improvement from his 2012 virgin voyage with Emmy.
Nevertheless, the 2016 Emmys broadcast netted only 11.3 million viewers, making it the lowest-rated in TV history. With millions of people watching the ceremony around the globe, Kimmel’s first outing with Oscar will be seen, and judged, by tens of millions more people. Last year’s Oscars show had an audience of 34 million, making it the least-watched in eight years.
Legendary Oscar captains are a rare breed and tend to be well-matched for the times in which they were chosen to helm. Billy Crystal set the standard for all modern hosts to follow; he was the candidate of choice through the Clinton years, hosting five of his eight times between 1992 and 2000. Accordingly, he approached the role as if his job was to help America bump up and keep dancing until the end of the party.
Hugh Jackman brought Broadway elegance to the 2009 Academy Awards telecast to rave reviews. In fact, over the past decade, only Jackman and two-time hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock have emerged from their times at the wheel smelling like roses. We know this because those of us who can recall their efforts without the benefit of a YouTube refresher don’t grimace at the memory.