So you think you can produce a classy Oscars?
Let's make one thing perfectly clear regarding today's announcement that Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman are on board as producers of the 82nd Academy Awards; they were not AMPAS' first choice. In fact, they weren't even the second or third.
It's true that the Academy asked last year's successful duo Larry Mark and Bill Condon to return, but neither wanted to commit with upcoming projects keeping them preoccupied. But if anyone thinks Shankman, who resume includes such uninspired dreck as "Bringing Down The House" and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," was the next phone call the Academy made is living in a dream world. The former choreographer had his biggest critical hit with "Hairspray," but that's a movie musical that didn't receive one Academy Award nomination. Do you know rare that is these days? Even the downer "Sweeney Todd" landed three nods (and won one).
Having spoken to Shankman in the past there's no doubt he's got quick wit and can work a room like a crafty politician, but there is little sophistication to anything he puts his fingers on. From producing the "Step Up" movies to his judging duties to "So You Think You Can Dance?," Shankman is hardly one who inspires.
Oh, and sorry "dudes," with Shankman on board expect one or more musical numbers this year, it's guaranteed.
Mechanic, on the other hand, is a well-respected former studio head who took the fall at 20th Century Fox when Rupert Murdoch felt the company was taking too many risky creative endeavors. Under Mechanic's reign, the studio produced "Titanic," The Thin Red Line," "The Full Monty," "Fight Club," "Bullworth" and started relationships with Danny Boyle, Alfonso Cuaron and Baz Luhrmann. And he also greenlit a little franchise called "X-Men." Still, he wasn't one of Murdoch's boys and was promptly shown the door (and you can argue besides Peter Rice's Searchlight run it's never been the same since). More surprising is just how quiet Mechanic has been in the intervening years having only produced the thriller "Dark Water" and this year's stop-motion hit "Coraline" (which luckily avoids any conflict of interest controversy as the director receives the nod if the picture is nominated for best animated film). Mechanic always seemed like a guy who should have gotten another shot at running another studio, but it just never happened. Now, he's back on the scene on the biggest industry stage possible.
As for the actual producing duties, both men bring different skills to the table. It's fairly obvious Mechanic will be coordinating the logistical nightmare of booking talent, guests and dealing with member and studio interests while Shankman focuses on the creative direction of the show. And in theory, that should work and result in a solid, but unsophisticated night of entertainment.
Ironically, the public hasn't had much interest in who is pulling the strings behind-the-scenes as long as the host made it a fun show to endure for three hours or more. And yet, with the decreasing ratings over the years the job has become more and more integral to the business of all things Oscar. The ratings uptick from last year's show may only put more pressure on Mechanic and Shankman to keep the positive trend growing. And with the advent of the ten best picture nominee system the unlikely duo may actually have a hook to sell it.
For new AMPAS president Tom Sherak there must be some disappointment in not being able to announce the host at the same time (a specific goal), but Mechanic's former Fox colleague rewarded years of loyalty while not disrupting too much of the status quo. And Shankman, well, he'll certainly entertain at those weekly pre-show meetings.
As for the host, conventional wisdom still has Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Kevin Spacey in the running, but could Shankman actually pull an early surprise out of his closet? It seems hard to believe after his recent personal tragedy, but could Shankman's "Hairspray" buddy John Travolta make his Oscar hosting debut? Or is Queen Latifah ready to go from nominee to emcee? Just be aware, the longer it takes for the announcement, the harder it was to find someone willing to follow in Jackman's dancing footsteps.
The 82nd Academy Awards will take place Sun, March 7, 2010 at the Kodak Theater. The clock is now officially running for Shankman and Mechanic to make it all happen. No pressure fellas.
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory