The Baffling Road to the Oscars: An Academy Timeline

The 91st annual Academy Awards are Sunday night, the culmination of one of the strangest Oscar seasons in recent memory, in which the Academy’s attempts to deliver a shorter and more ratings-friendly broadcast has resulted in a baffling series of ill-advised decisions, meek reversals and avoidable controversies.

A timeline:

March 5, 2018

The morning after the 90th Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC (the ceremony’s regular network) are hit with “the doomsday ratings scenario”: the show’s 26.5 million viewers were the lowest ever recorded in the show’s history, a nearly 20 percent drop from the previous year.

Academy and ABC/Disney execs meet shortly thereafter to discuss changes that might halt the ratings free-fall.

Aug. 8, 2018

The Academy announces its proposed changes: a three-hour cap for the 2019 telecast (the 2018 show clocked in at nearly four), the presentation of “select categories” during commercial breaks and the addition of a category for “outstanding achievement in popular film.”

The later proposal draws the most immediate and negative response, prompting criticisms of “pandering” to the wider audience with a “stupid, insulting and pathetically desperate” attempt at a “tainted” award.

Sept. 6, 2018

The academy’s 54-member board votes to table the new award, at least for this year’s ceremony, recognizing “the need for further discussion with our members,” according to a statement from Dawn Hudson, the academy’s chief executive.

Dec. 4, 2018

The Academy announces that the comedian Kevin Hart will host the 2019 ceremony. “I am blown away simply because this has been a goal on my list for a long time,” Hart writes on Instagram.

Dec. 6, 2018

Hart announces on Twitter that he will step down as host, following the discovery and discussion of several homophobic tweets and jokes.

Jan. 4, 2019

Hart appears on the daytime talk show of the two-time Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres, who offers up a lengthy defense of the comedian, and claims that members of the Academy would still like him to host.

But in a “Variety” interview posted the same day, Hart insists the door is closed: “Would I ever do it? No, it’s done. It’s done.” (In a strange postscript, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson later claims he was the Academy’s “first choice to host this year,” but was unable to take the job because of his commitment to filming “Jumanji 2” with Kevin Hart.)

The 2019 Oscars will not have a host, for the first time since the disastrous 1989 ceremony, a.k.a. the “Rob Lowe Sings with Snow White” show.

Jan. 24, 2019

Variety reports that only two of the five Best Original Song nominees “Shallow” from “A Star is Born” and “All the Stars” from “Black Panther” will be performed during the ceremony, leaving the other three nominees to be “acknowledged only during the announcement of the song nominees.”

Jan. 31, 2019

The Academy walks back the decision, announcing the performances of two more nominated songs, with the final number added the following day.

Feb. 1, 2019

By then, an entirely new controversy has bubbled up: Deadline reports that the previous year’s four acting honorees Frances McDormand, Gary Oldman, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell have not been contacted to hand out this year’s acting prizes (per Oscar tradition), with The Hollywood Reporter subsequently confirming that Rockwell and Janney’s reps were told by the Academy that the actors would not be presenting. In a (later deleted) Instagram post, Janney writes, “It’s looking like they are not going to honor the tradition this year. It breaks my heart.”

Feb. 6, 2019

The Academy announces via Twitter that the four actors in question will, in fact, “be presenters at this year’s show.”

Feb. 11, 2019

After five controversy-free days, the Academy leaps into its biggest fracas yet with the long-delayed announcement of the four categories deemed unworthy of live broadcast: cinematography, film editing, live-action short and makeup and hairstyling.

Criticism is swift and virulent, with twitter condemnations, angry interviews and open letters abounding.

Feb. 15, 2019

The Academy, once again, walks back the decision, issuing a statement that “All Academy Awards will be presented without edits, in our traditional format.”

In an interview with The Times published two days later, the show’s lead producer, Donna Gigliotti, seems relatively unfazed: “Any producer worth her salt is used to these kinds of things. You find a new way.” And in a way, her calm is understandable. After all, what else could go wrong?

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