Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, February 28, 2005
 

Rock Looks to Steve


Edmonton Sun (Alberta)
February 27, 2005 Sunday
FINAL EDITION
TV MAGAZINE; Cover Story; Pg. TV2
ROCKING THE BOAT; ACADEMY AWARD SHOW HOST SHOOTS FROM THE LIP
BILL BRIOUX, SUN MEDIA

Talk about biting the hand that feeds. Chris Rock made headlines earlier this month when he dismissed the Academy Awards as a "fashion show," called the notion of giving out awards "idiotic" and asked, "What straight black man sits there and watches Oscars? Show me one."

The comments, which appeared in Entertainment Weekly, rocked traditionalists, who called for Rock's removal as host of the 77th Annual Academy Awards (airing Sunday night at 6 on CTV and ABC).

Is this the guy we want hosting our show, they wailed?

Absolutely, insists veteran Oscar producer Gil Cates. "Chris's comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at a show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy," he said in a statement released by the academy.

And, in a year that already may be hampered with quiet, independent film contenders, stuffy is the last thing Oscar needs.

You'd never call Rock stuffy. Profane, searing, shocking, scatological, political, racially charged ... sure.

In recent years, Billy Crystal has provided the Oscar-host template, playing the broadest possible shtick to one of the biggest rooms in television. He's the logical successor to Bob Hope and Johnny Carson, the safe, white, lovable middle-aged male.

Chris Rock is not. He's young, black and dangerous - and damn funny. Clearly, Cates is hoping Rock will attract younger viewers who, in recent years, have ditched the show if there are no Lord of the Rings-level blockbusters.

Cates and Rock took questions from international media last month in Los Angeles. Crystal wasn't asked to do the Oscars this year, explained Cates, because he's doing a play in New York. Steve Martin is also busy, doing a movie.

"Ellen DeGeneres has crabs," said Rock - in one devastating line showing why he is both so wrong and so right for the job.

He's quick, sharp, damn funny - and shoots from the lip.

He told reporters that he has never been a member of the academy. "If you're darker than a paper bag, you can't get in," he said. Cates quickly joked that he'd get him in and changed the subject.

Stand-up comics make the best hosts, believes Cates, and both he and his wife feel Rock is "the funniest man alive." He called Rock's manager, who set up a meeting with the comedian and a deal was struck.

Rock revealed that he'd been asked to host before. "A couple of times, since '97 or whatever," he said. "And I was always, like, 'That's an old man's gig.' But I'm older," he added - Rock turned 40 on Feb. 7

Hosting the MTV Awards gave him insight into what to expect. The other thing that hooked him was following in the footsteps of some comedy legends. "I like that some of the greatest comedians ever have hosted the show," he said, singling out Hope and Carson.

He spoke with Steve Martin, who recommended a writer or two. Just the fact that Rock was calling him early, "You'll be ready," Martin said. He hoped to speak with Crystal and another recent Oscar host, Whoopi Goldberg, before the big show.

He's been testing out Oscar material for weeks at L.A. comedy clubs. He doesn't expect to make too many inside jokes or reference smaller films like Finding Neverland. "I'll stick to the big stuff, and the world will like it because people outside the room will like it," he said. "I'd rather do a joke about The Bourne Supremacy, which everybody saw, than Sideways, to tell you the truth."

How much does the gig pay? Rock wouldn't say, but Cates suggested that it was close to minimum. "No one hosts the show for the money," he said.

Minimum for a three-and-a-half hour show would be around $13,000 US, Cates said, and apparently Oscar hosts don't make much more than that. "It costs less than the inauguration," said Rock.

He admitted that he rarely watched the Academy Awards in the past. "Any black people nominated? No. OK, back to bed," he said, adding, "what straight guy that's not in show business watches the Oscars?"

It never came up much back in Brooklyn, he added.

A hip host isn't the only shake-up at this year's award show. Some winners will get their statues from presenters stationed in the audience. In other categories, all five nominees will be called up on stage prior to the envelope opening. Cates hopes these innovations will reduce the time it takes some winners to collect their trophies and give all the nominees more face time.

The 70-year-old producer, whose niece is actress Phoebe Cates, is working his record 12th Oscar gig. How far Rock rocks the boat or rocks the room will probably determine if he'll do a 13th.

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