LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - All eyes are on the three television comedians who will host two of the most prestigious Hollywood awards shows of 2013.
On January 13, actresses Tina Fey and Amy Poehler will be first-time co-hosts of the Golden Globes, which hands out awards in both film and television. On February 24, “Family Guy” creator and voice talent Seth MacFarlane will host the Academy Awards for the first time.
A host can make or break an awards show. A good one will move the show along, keep the audience entertained and be invited back ‑ like the late Bob Hope, who hosted the Academy Awards a record 19 times. A host who fizzles will be forever remembered for jokes that fall flat, such as David Letterman’s repetitious “Oprah, Uma. Uma, Oprah” joke at the 1995 Oscars.
The Golden Globes had gone without a host for 15 years until 2010,when acerbic British comedian and “The Office” creator Ricky Gervais was hired. During his three stints, Gervais skewered the likes of Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr., members of the Church of Scientology and the Golden Globes organizers, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). But he brought a lot of attention to the show.
The choice of Fey, 42, and Poehler, 41, “puts a friendlier face on the Globes,” Scott Feinberg of the Hollywood Reporter told Reuters.
“There’s been a desire on the part of the HFPA to get away from the more biting humor that Ricky Gervais brought over the last three years,” he said. “Tina Fey and Amy Poehler can zing (the stars) without seeming as mean-spirited as it sometimes did with Ricky Gervais.”
Fey and Poehler certainly make for a promising choice. The two longtime friends have proven chemistry as well as experience in live television, thanks to their work on “Saturday Night Live.” They also appeared together on the big screen in the comedies “Mean Girls” and “Baby Mama.”
But Tom O’Neil of the awards prediction website GoldDerby.com cautions not to expect a more gentle show just because “a couple of chicks” are hosting it.
“Tina Fey is a devilish comic,” he said. “She comes across as this smiley, sweet girl but remember, there’s a ‘Mean Girl’ inside, which is the name of her (2004) breakout movie.
“I believe she’s going to pull a Ricky Gervais, but without crossing the line,” he said. “She’s going to take it right up to the edge. The combination of Amy and Tina promises to be a memorable night.”
The Academy’s pick of MacFarlane is a return to the tradition of having a comedian at the center of its show ‑ albeit a younger and more risque one.
MacFarlane, 38, whose hit Fox series “The Family Guy” has been on the air for 11 seasons, made his feature film debut this year with “Ted,” which he directed, co-wrote and voiced. It became the highest-grossing R-rated film of 2012.
“He’s accepted as being talented enough to be in the room (with the film crowd on Oscar night), but he is not of them,” Feinberg said. “He has enough distance to go after it in a funny way.”
Like previous singing and dancing Oscars hosts such as Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra and Hugh Jackman, MacFarlane is a singer who has released an album of American standards and has performed at venues including Carnegie Hall.
In short, he has a hip-street cred with “Family Guy” and “Ted,” and the personality and pizzazz of a circus ringmaster. “What the Oscars have clearly decided to do was hand the show over to someone who knows how to write, who won’t bring a political agenda to the table, who’s a little bit dangerous but who will stay on topic,” said O’Neil.
“Seth MacFarlane has the potential to be one of the greatest Oscar hosts ever, or one of the worst.”
MacFarlane was hired after two years of embarrassing incidents, beginning with the hiring of actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the show in 2011 in an attempt to lure younger viewers. The result was disastrous.
“James Franco looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there, and it was ridiculous how overexcited Anne Hathaway was to be there,” said Feinberg.
There was more embarrassment last year when action filmmaker Brett Ratner was hired to produce the Academy Awards. Ratner, in turn, tapped comedian Eddie Murphy to host.
Not long after, Ratner caused an industry firestorm when he used a gay slur while promoting his movie “Tower Heist” and then spoke in detail about his sex life on shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show.
Ratner swiftly resigned and Murphy exited shortly thereafter, leaving the Academy scrambling for replacements before bringing in Billy Crystal to host for a ninth time. “What the Oscars have to acknowledge is that this is the industry’s family reunion, and who presides over a family reunion? A beloved family insider,” said O’Neil.
Crystal became known for parodying the Best Picture nominees by inserting himself digitally into scenes from the movies. Five-time Oscar host Johnny Carson, on the other hand, delivered memorable one-liners, like his 1979 quip to the celebrity-packed audience, “I see a lot of new faces ... especially on the old faces.”
Steve Martin, who has hosted three times, went off script in 2003 when he pointed out that action star Vin Diesel had better seats than veteran Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney.
Such hosts had the authority to make such jokes and get away with it, which is why the combination of Franco and Hathaway was doomed from the start, Feinberg said.
“Two young people with young careers ‑ who are they going to make fun of?” he said. “They’re not in a position to do that.”
Yet even comedians need to understand the needs of a movie industry crowd that considers Oscar night the most important event of the year, and the Globes a close second. Hosts have to walk a careful line between edgy humor and evisceration.
Can these new hosts pull that off? The suspense could be just as compelling as the anticipation of what’s inside all those envelopes.
Reporting by Zorianna Kit; Editing by Arlene Getz, Kathy Jones and Douglas Royalty