Oscars aim for surprises to spice up show

Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:17pm EST
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After the curtain rises on Sunday's Oscars, producers hope a few surprise winners and heartfelt acceptance speeches will spice up the program in which silent movie "The Artist" is widely seen as the choice for best movie.

The world's top film honors are in jeopardy of losing their status as the second most-watched TV event in the United States behind professional football's Super Bowl if the show can't lure more than 40 million viewers, which could be difficult.

Producers have brought back popular host Billy Crystal to provide laughter, but the best solution for a lively TV awards program, sponsors at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences say, is a group of surprise winners or ones who give genuinely emotional or rousing acceptance speeches.

"Be memorable, and you will be remembered," co-producer Don Mischer told nominees at a recent luncheon.

It's hard to forget 73-year-old Jack Palance doing one-arm pushups on the Oscar stage after winning best supporting actor for 1991's "City Slickers," or more recently the heartfelt speech by writers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova of best song winner "Falling Slowly" from 2007 film, "Once."

The Oscars need a few surprises because silent movie romance "The Artist," while critically lauded, has generated only around $30 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices, and the Oscars generally enjoy larger TV audiences when popular hits like "Avatar" are in the hunt for best movie.

The show annually is the second most-watched program on U.S. TV behind professional football's Super Bowl, but this year's Grammy Awards, music's top honors, lured 40 million viewers the night after Whitney Houston's death and could easily surpass the Oscars, which only twice since 2002 has had a larger audience.

Oscar producers also hope a return of popular comedian Crystal as host of the program for the ninth time will lure viewers. He hasn't been emcee of the show since 2004 when it drew roughly 44 million viewers and box office smash "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" was the big winner.   Continued...

A woman walks past Oscar statues covered in plastic before they are unveiled at the red carpet arrivals area during preparations for the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 25, 2012.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson