Comic actor Billy Crystal will host the Academy Awards for the ninth time after replacing Eddie Murphy and may be joined onstage by the Muppets.
Crystal, 63, will emcee Hollywood’s biggest awards for the first time since 2004, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences said yesterday in a statement. The show will be telecast on Feb. 26 on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC.
“It’s great to have him back,” Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. “I’m a big fan of Billy Crystal, and I think the audience loves him too.”
The annual telecast gives studios a chance to promote movies, often with a spoof of the best-picture candidates in the opening segment. Disney, based in Burbank, California, releases “The Muppets” on Nov. 23, featuring children’s characters Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.
“I wouldn’t count the Muppets out,” Iger said. “I like the idea of Billy and Miss Piggy or Billy and Kermit on stage.”
Murphy, 50, withdrew as host this week, after the producer he had been working with, Brett Ratner, quit the show. Ratner was criticized for making controversial comments including a gay slur and recounting his sexual escapades with actresses.
Crystal will be working with filmmaker Brian Grazer, who agreed to replace Ratner as a producer on the show, and with Don Mischer, who helped run last year’s show and has also overseen television’s Emmy awards.
“Am doing the Oscars so the young woman in the pharmacy will stop asking my name when I pick up my prescriptions,” Crystal, 63, wrote on his Twitter account. “Looking forward to the show.”
The academy had turned to Murphy after the audience for last year’s show fell 9.1 percent. The change in host and producer may not derail planning as the academy last year waited until Nov. 29 before announcing hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco for the 2011 awards show.
The academy has also tinkered with the best-picture category, expanding it to 10 films this past year in an effort to include more popular movies.
Five to 10 nominees will be announced on Jan. 24. The television audience for the Oscars has historically been biggest when blockbusters like “Avatar,” the highest-grossing movie of all time, are up for the top honors.
Grazer, 60, who produced the Oscar winner “A Beautiful Mind,” is the longtime partner of Ron Howard for films including “Apollo 13.” Crystal’s movies include “Analyze This” and 1989’s “When Harry Met Sally.”
Disney, the world’s largest theme park operator and owner of ESPN and Pixar animation studio, rose 2.5 percent to $34.64 yesterday in New York trading. The shares have slid 7.7 percent this year.