LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Chris Rock will host the Oscar ceremony in February for a second time, producers said on Wednesday, bringing what is expected to be an edgier feel to Hollywood’s biggest night.
Rock, a stand-up comedian and former cast member of the long-running sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” last hosted the live Academy Awards telecast in 2005, making headlines for his pointed remarks on politics and race and helping to draw an audience of some 41.5 million U.S. viewers.
The hosting job is regarded as one of the biggest honors in the entertainment industry. But it is also one of the most difficult, as it requires mixing comedic monologues, keeping a three-hour plus show moving, and entertaining both the movie industry’s biggest players in the audience as well as viewers at home.
Oscars producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin said Rock, who is also an actor, writer, producer and director, was their “No. 1 choice. Period.”
“We looked at the (2005) Oscars and said it doesn’t get better than this. Let’s see is Chris is available,” Hill told Reuters.
Rock, 50, said in a statement, “It’s great to be back.”
The producers said they planned to move away from the song and dance show feel in recent years under hosts that included Broadway star Hugh Jackman and Neil Patrick Harris. Under Harris last year, the U.S. television audience fell to its lowest in six years with some 36.6 million viewers.
“Rock screams film, and that is what we are doing with the show this year. The show is going to be about movies,” Hill said.
The duo denied that the choice of Rock also reflected criticism that last year’s nominees for the movie industry’s highest awards were overwhelmingly white.
“Not at all. We were simply looking for the best,” Hill said.
Salon.com’s Anna Silman on Wednesday noted that some of the most memorable moments of recent awards shows have dealt with the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry.
“It will be great to have a host who isn’t afraid to confront that head on,” Silman wrote of Rock’s selection.
In 2005, Rock delivered biting criticism of then U.S. President George W. Bush. The 2016 Academy Award ceremony will take place as the U.S. presidential election campaign moves into high gear, giving Rock an opportunity for pointed political comedy once again.
Rock, a four-time Emmy winner, created and produced the TV sitcom “Everybody Hates Chris,” based on his own life, which ran from 2005 to 2009. His movie appearances include “Lethal Weapon 4” and “The Longest Yard.”
The Academy Awards ceremony will take place in Hollywood on Feb. 28. Nominations will be announced in January.
Other recent hosts include Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and Seth MacFarlane.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Susan Heavey, Will Dunham, Lisa Lambert and Bernard Orr