We Preview Sunday’s OSCAR Telecast with Producer Bruce Cohen and Writer Bruce Vilanch

Wondering what to expect from this weekend’s 83rd ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS? We certainly were! Which is why, when given the opportunity to chat with producer Bruce Cohen and writer Bruce Vilanch we jumped at the chance. What follows is how they plan on appealing to the show’s broad spectrum of audience members, the thought process that went into choosing their hosts and why those hoping for a cameo from Ricky Gervais probably shouldn’t hold their breath.

When do you start working on a show as big as the Oscars?
Bruce Cohen: Tom Sherak who is President of the Academy actually had the really good idea to try and pick producers earlier this year, and he asked Don Mischer, who is producing it with me, to do the show back in June. To have this much time to prepare, watch all the old shows and really start thinking about what type of a show we wanted to do has been really great and hopefully will really help the show.

Would it be fair to say that one of the biggest challenges when it comes to producing what is arguably the year’s biggest television event is honoring the history of the Oscars while ensuring that the show remains relevant for a younger generation, without that is, turning it into an MTV Movie Awards?
Bruce Cohen: You’ve actually put your finger on the exact conversation that happened, because what Don and I found, which is really fascinating, is that every single question that we asked ourselves about the show, every single thing we thought about, every single decision we had to make it was always, “How do we do something new while still honoring the tradition of the 82 years that has come before us?” And so about the 300th time that we ran into that same question in the first week, we got smart and said, “What if there is a way to do both and what if that’s our theme for the year, the old and new together.” And that has hopefully surfaced in all these different ways, starting with taking these two really young hosts from a new generation — James [Franco] and Anne [Hathaway] — and take this totally new approach. With them as hosts we’re going to look back at some of the great moments in film history, some of the great moments in Oscar history and we’re hoping that we have a show that really will have something for everyone.

And speaking of the hosts, is it all risky to have a host that is nominated? Is there a “Plan B” should James Franco inexplicably suffer from some sort of on-camera meltdown should he lose for his work in 127 hours?
Bruce Cohen: Don Mischer and I knew that we wanted James and Anne for our hosts. We were a little worried about the potential of actually both of them at the time being nominated — would that be a problem for everyone? But we did our Oscar homework which we’ve constantly been doing and we found out that it has happened six times before, where one of the hosts was also nominated and David Nevin had even won when he was nominated for best actor. So the minute we told both the Academy and ABC that they were fine, there’s precedence for this, it’s been done before. Now, will James Franco should he lose have a live meltdown on camera? (a) Probably not, and (b) if he does, all the better!
Bruce Vilanch: Bring it on!

For Bruce Vilanch, you’re primarily known as one of Hollywood’s go-to Award Show writers. What’s it like being the man behind the scenes, where if a show goes well, you get none of the credit, yet if it goes poorly, you’re front and center taking the blame?
Bruce Vilanch: When you choose to be behind the scenes that kind of goes with the territory. You know you’re going to get blamed or not blamed and you’re not going to get as much glory as the people there out in front. That said, the thing about a show like the Oscars, I have framed in my office a review of a show that Whoopi Goldberg hosted, a rave review from the NY Times, and next to it I have a review of the very same show by the LA Times that virtually recommended that the Iatola have me beheaded because it was so poor and they’re next to each other and that’s exactly the way it should be. They’re going to love it, they’re going to hate it, that goes with the territory. There’s just no worrying about it you have to say this is what I’ve chosen. But as I’ve said many times, you don’t get into football not to play in the Super Bowl and you don’t get into the comedy business not to work on the biggest show in the world seen by the largest audience which is the Academy Awards.

Bruce Cohen: To me I’ve always felt you don’t get into producing movies not to get a chance to produce the Oscars some day because that’s the pinnacle of success in the business, is to be considered for an Oscar, to be nominated, and then to get to produce the show at some point.

Another Oscar challenge is keeping the audience engaged throughout the middle portion of the show, when some of the lesser known awards are being handed out. What tricks do you have up your sleeve for this daunting task?
Bruce Cohen: Well shorter is always better and it’s certainly something that we think about everyday. We have tried to create a journey through some of the great moments in film history and Oscar history throughout the show that separate from the awards and actually doesn’t have anything to do with which awards are given out when and who wins them. Our hope is that if we can do that, and we’ll see if we can, the idea is that we’ve got a story we’re telling throughout the evening that you’ll be interested in whether or not you’re fascinated by the particular category we’re presenting in the middle of the show. If you know screenplays, the three act screenplay, act two is always the b*tch. The beginning’s great, the end’s great and something has got to happen in the middle and that’s certainly something Don and I and Bruce have put a lot of thought and energy into.

And finally, seeing as though we have two Award Show experts on the line, we can’t let you go without asking for your take on Ricky Gervais’ recent job hosting the Golden Globes.
Bruce Vilanch: I find him shocking and outrageous but he never hits funny. I just didn’t find any of it funny. I thought the subjects were tired, the Charlie Sheens, Mel Gibsons, Bruce Willis’ age and Scientology. I mean they’re tired, old subjects. What’s more, I also think that he’s changed. He was kind of cuddly and nervous his first yet and now he’s got a trainer, is no longer cuddly and comes off as mean and a player and I just don’t think it works for him.

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards air Sunday February 27 at 8PM on ABC (CTV in Canada)

For all the latest TV news and reviews