Brian Grazer on Producing the Oscars

I was just getting on an airplane in New York when I got a call from [Academy President] Tom Sherak saying, “If we needed you to do the Oscars, would you do it?” He was in a state of panic. The Oscars are 16 weeks away—Jesus, that’s crazy. It’s an amazing amount of work, and I’m busy producing movies and television shows, and I have four kids. I’d always said no to the Oscars. I thought Brett [Ratner] would have created a curiosity and an excitement factor. I don’t think the mistakes he made [using a gay slur at a screening earlier this month] represent him properly. I didn’t want to say yes until I’d spoken to some central people in my life.

First was Ron Howard, my production partner. He said, “If you’re going to do it, now’s the perfect time.” I called Brett because we’re friends, and I wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings. This is something that he really wanted to do. I told him I wasn’t going to do it if he didn’t feel good about it. He said, “You’ll do an amazing job. It should have been you to begin with.” (I took him out to dinner after I said yes—I paid—because I wanted to give him some advice on his situation.) I called Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios, who said, “You have to do it,” and I called one other person who’s chairman and CEO of a major studio who also told me I was very needed. This felt like a civic duty.

I wanted Billy Crystal right away. I saw Billy last year at Graydon Carter’s Oscars party and said to him, “If I were to ever produce the Oscars, I’d want you to host it.” So I made the pitch completely personal: “I’d really love you to do this. Remember we talked about it last year?” He said he wanted to think about it for a day. I was worried he would say no because instead of having six months to prepare, he has half that. When he said yes, I announced it right away. I didn’t want the Academy or the public to feel that we’re lost.

It’s going to be a hard thing to do, and do well. It’s a thankless job. There are people who like it and hate it. It’s polarizing. I’m not trying to shake it up and be groovy. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel; I’m just changing some of the spokes. My ego is not so gigantic that I think I’m going to reformulate the demographic in three months. I want to deliver the glamour that Hollywood has. I’m surprised that I’m excited by this. This is the grandest of all variety shows in the world. —As told to Diane Brady   

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