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Ellen will flop as Oscar host

September 8, 2006 |  2:01 am

Didn't I warn you back in January that Jon Stewart would be a poor Oscar emcee? Yes, and all I got in return were 1,472 nasty emails and no thanks.

Now Ellen DeGeneres?! I say no thank you and, excuse me: zzzzzzzzzz.

In general, Ellen has proven to be a dull, unremarkable awards-show host in the past — with one remarkable exception: when she saved the Emmys in 2001 after the TV awards had been delayed twice because of U.S. warring in Afghanistan, then had to go on up against the seventh game of the World Series. Ellen hit it out of the park that night. The next day the Hollywood Reporter hailed her in a headline correctly as "The Miracle Worker" after she welcomed viewers to "the 53rd, 54th and 55th Emmy Awards" and said how proud she was to have the job because "what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?" Another highlight came when she emerged on stage later to face attendees, who'd been told to dress down for the occasion, wearing a rip-off of the swan gown Bjork once wore notoriously to the Oscars, noting, "I guess this is business casual."

Variety was not so appreciative of her hosting turn that night, by the way. While the tradepaper did acknowledge those highlights as "amusing," it noted that "some of her more laborious material was weak" and described the whole evening as a "sluggish three hours." Overall, however, it conceded, "DeGeneres' deadpan style was welcome, and her modest approach to her duties was appealing."

Now the bad news.

The last time she hosted the Emmycast, in 2005, Variety dismissed it as a "ho-hum affair that failed to deliver on officials' promises to be a more lively event. CBS presented a safe and uninspiring show that puttered along and got the job done with no sparks. Nothing that host Ellen DeGeneres said or did fell flat or rattled the roof with laughter." In general, the paper accused her of "flaccid, seemingly ad-libbed hosting."

Back in 1996 when she presided over the Grammys, Variety said the show "lacked fire — it was nearly as smooth and sanitary as TLC's lip-synched performance."

The Hollywood Reporter called that night one of "minimal thrills" and "low-octane efficiency" and begged the Grammys to come back the next year with "a host who can ignite the audience." The Grammys returned with DeGeneres again and the Hollywood Reporter called the result a "yawn-inducing" occasion, adding, "In three hours of bland presentations and forgettable musical numbers, appropriately flagged 'TV-PG' by the on-screen ratings designator, the 39th Annual Grammy Awards telecast seemed to reflect the current lack of excitement in the record industry. Host Ellen DeGeneres' humor never caught fire, and her remark, well into the ceremony, that 'it's a shame you don't see what happens during the commercials,' spoke unintentional volumes about what viewers did see."

So why are the Nielsen-plunging Oscars having such a consistently poor host head their next party? Are they crazy? Apparently so: they were so eager to announce the news that they did so four months before Jon Stewart was unveiled as the last emcee!

Ellen has many of the same drawbacks that Jon had. Neither are movie insiders. Jon's meager film credits include "Death to Smoochy" and "Big Daddy" (ouch! ouch! ) while Ellen appeared as a coach in "Coneheads" and the voice of a fish in "Finding Nemo." Sure, TV icon Johnny Carson pulled off the task successfully five times, but there's always an exception to a rule and, frankly, this rule sounds like a pretty good one: movie insiders should host movies' Big Night.

Don't believe me? I have two words for you: David Letterman.

Academy Awards telecast writer Bruce Vilanch once warned about picking an Oscar host: "You don't want (the audience) to feel like this is a person you jobbed in."

The Oscars are the film industry's annual family reunion and — sorry — Ellen ain't related. The night works best when kin presides over kin, as Steve Martin proved when he once addressed Mickey Rooney in the audience, saying, "Mickey, I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here."

Or, at another Oscar show prior to the 2002 kudos for "The Pianist," back when industryites weren't quite ready yet to forgive one of their fugitive kind, Martin gasped: "Roman Polanski's here . . . . Get him! "

The chief reason the Oscars are giving Ellen the job and are so excited about it is — let's be honest — because she's so nice. Everybody likes her and she's kind of hip, being a lesbian and all that. Yes, yes, we all adore Ellen and she's funny and a niceypooh talk show host. But she has little potential to turn out to be a great Oscar host and that's what the film academy needs most next time up.

The first Oscar prediction this derby: Ellen won't be a disaster, but she won't be terrific either. Because expectations are so high at Hollywood's Super Bowl, that means she'll be remembered as a flop. So why should viewers bother tuning in?

If those viewers have seen many of her past Emmys and Grammys perfs, it's possible they won't. If it's OK to have a TV gal topline, then why not one who'd really wow us — like . . .

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Photos: After failing at many past award shows, Ellen isn't the right fit for Oscar.
(A.M.P.A.S.)

. . . Tina Fey? At least she has a real movie credit — writer and costar of "Mean Girls" — and would probably be available because her new TV show will be in the can early next year.

One good thing about Ellen's scheduled appointment is that the Oscars are tapping a woman for the solo gig. Only one other female has been so blessed: Whoopi Goldberg (four times). Other women have presided, but merely as cohosts, including past winners Ellen Burstyn, Claudette Colbert, Jane Fonda (twice), Goldie Hawn (twice), Helen Hayes, Celeste Holm, Liza Minnelli and Shirley MacLaine. Oddly, too, a few past female snubees like Rosalind Russell (4 defeats) and Diana Ross (1 loss), who've had to oversee the bestowal of awards to other academy members. Worse: Thelma Ritter, the biggest female loser in Oscar history (6 defeats — tied with Deborah Kerr). Imagine how much poor Thelma must've secretly wanted to dive off the stage that night and into the audience to give them all the good smacking they deserved for once having preferred Donna Reed to her!

I wish Ellen DeGeneres the best, really, but I fear the worst. David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart probably wish they could've gotta away with a mere slap from critics after they exited the Oscar stage.

Why doesn't everyone just forget this gotta-be-a-woman thing, if that's what is really going on, and pick the best, yet-untapped Oscar host of all possibilities: Jim Carrey? He's perfect: a giant box-office name and a Hollywood insider who has a dangerous sense of humor and a big heart. Just the right combo!

Or double Oscar champ Tom Hanks! Wouldn't he be socko? In so many ways he's the clone of Oscar's greatest host ever: Bob Hope. Hope was so terrif that he holds the record for doing the emcee gig the most — 18 times (11 solo, 7 as cohost). In second place is Billy Crystal (8 times).


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