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Why Pandemic-Era Award Shows Need Hosts More Than Ever

The Grammys get it. The Oscars may not.
  • Melissa Villaseñor, Trevor Noah, Kenan Thompson, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler and Taye Diggs are among those performing host duties this award season.
    Melissa Villaseñor, Trevor Noah, Kenan Thompson, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler and Taye Diggs are among those performing host duties this award season.

    It would be difficult to overstate just how much this year's disastrous Golden Globes telecast is striking fear into the hearts of awards-show producers everywhere. After a controversy-clouded ceremony combined Zoom breakout rooms, pre-recorded bits, essential-workers as seat-fillers, and hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey presiding from opposite coasts, NBC was hit with a massive ratings dip that saw the show nosedive to a 26-year low. Now everybody else is scrambling to avoid making the same mistakes… only nobody really knows what it was about the Globes that caused viewers to stay away in droves. Was it the relatively low profile of this year's nominated films? The COVID-dictated absence of in-person celebrities and a red carpet? The controversies surrounding the Hollywood Foreign Press Association?

    Some shows are raising the white flag of surrender in response — TNT's production of the Screen Actors Guild Awards is now going to be a one-hour, pre-taped affair — but others are plowing forward, undaunted. Last month, Film Independent announced that Saturday Night Live's Melissa Villaseñor would host the Independent Spirit Awards, set to air on IFC and AMC Plus on April 22.

    And then there are this Sunday's Grammy Awards, which were originally scheduled for January 31 but were postponed due to the late-January COVID spike in Los Angeles. With scheduled performances from the likes of Harry Styles, Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish, and Taylor Swift, the Grammys will be just the latest major awards show to carry on during the pandemic. They'll be hosted by The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, and although the Grammys hosting gig is nowhere near as prestigious as the Oscars, the show has historically done very well with hosts. After a late-'80s/early '90s run filled with comedians getting their training wheels before eventually hosting the Oscars (Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen Degeneres, and Jon Stewart all hosted the Grammys before getting called up to host the Academy Awards), the Grammys of late have been largely hosted by other musicians, like Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, and Alicia Keys.

    Still, the job of a Grammys host largely entails introducing the cavalcade of performances that grace the stage. It's nowhere in the same league — either in degree of difficulty or level of scrutiny — as the Oscars. That scrutiny, paired with the fact that Oscar producers, the Academy, and ABC have all become obsessed as of late with the Oscar ceremony running as short as humanly possible, is one reason why the show has gone host-less for the last two years. Sure, Kevin Hart did himself no favors after his past homophobic comedy routines came back to haunt him in 2018. But after the Hart-less Oscars went off seamlessly — and quickly — last year's ceremony went host-less as an aesthetic choice. Both of the last two Oscar ceremonies have been streamlined — if rather bland — affairs, but it's hard to imagine the telecast succeeding this year, in whatever pandemic-required format it's going to take, without a host or hosts of some kind.

    Thus far, ABC and the Academy haven't announced a host, and even with the Oscar calendar pushed back significantly, it's still very late in the game for a traditional single Oscar host to be announced. Far more likely is that the show will be anchored by a handful of people, each trying to shepherd the ceremony through its various categories and performances. It's a hard enough job in the best of circumstances, but with an Oscar ceremony that's certain to take place at many remotely-filmed locations, the steady hand of a host is more essential than ever. For as much as Golden Globes hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were hamstrung by the challenges of their remotely-filmed task, it's hard to imagine just how much more chaotic that entire night would have felt without them. The Oscars will have to get pretty creative with their presentation if they're going to avoid the pitfalls the Globes suffered, and that task is going to be doubly hard without a host.

    If this year doesn't end up teaching the show's producers that the Oscars need the unifying personality of a host, then nothing will. We'll just be doomed to host-less Oscars after host-less Oscars, until the ceremony migrates over to Netflix, at which point chaos will truly reign.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: The Grammy Awards, Trevor Noah, Coronavirus, Golden Globe Awards, Oscars