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Oscar Host Jimmy Kimmel May Have Been the Academy’s Only Choice — Here’s Why

Jimmy Kimmel has the chops to do the Oscars, but he may be the only person in Hollywood who could pull off a hosting assignment made this late in the game.

Emmy Awards host Jimmy Kimmel.

ABC/Image Group LA

Well, Oscar producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd have gone with ABC’s presumed first choice of Oscar host, Jimmy Kimmel. (The official Academy announcement is still to come.)

However: Because they waited this long, Kimmel became the only choice. He’s the only one who could pull this off in two months’ time. Someone without hosting chops could have never done it at this point, which narrowed the field substantially. Kimmel does this every night, and just did it during the Emmys. Even so, his staff is now scrambling and pulling their hair out — hosts are usually given at least five months to prep. And Kimmel still has to do his nightly show, especially during February (it’s a sweeps month).

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The trick with the Oscars is that anyone new takes a huge risk of being criticized and second-guessed. And anyone who has done it before has learned what a thankless task it is. What’s the upside? (Ask Seth MacFarlane, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, David Letterman, or Jon Stewart.) Well, if you are really really good at hosting, like Billy Crystal, Hugh Jackman, Steve Martin or Ellen DeGeneres, they come begging every year. And you just say no.

“I’m always on the short list,” Kimmel told IndieWire’s Michael Schneider. “Maybe they do that just so I don’t feel bad about myself, but I never felt that there was any real, serious consideration. If asked, I would do it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t immediately regret saying ‘yes,’ as I do with almost everything I agree to. The Oscars really does seem like a no-win situation, but in a way that makes you want to win. It’s a challenge, and nobody’s ever happy with the host.”

So Kimmel makes perfect sense. Why? He’s confident, having just done a fine job of hosting the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards. (That’s my take; he got mixed reviews for his second stint.) And Kimmel knows the room. He’s a Hollywood insider. Celebrities are comfortable with him. He’s good on his feet.

That said, the Academy prefers hosts with some movie cred; it’s unprecedented for an Oscar host to have just hosted the Emmys within a calendar year. This may well be their only choice. And oh, ABC really likes him. It’s not insignificant that the Academy recently revised and extended its deal with the network to telecast the Oscar show through 2028, giving away in the process some say over the host and veto powers, including advertisers. (Welcome Walmart and Big Pharm?)

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So dashed are my hopes that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon would co-host. But they are sure to appear as presenters. Why? Todd is president of their production company, Pearl Street Films, and they have plenty of reasons to turn up on the Oscar stage  — Affleck’s Dennis Lehane adaptation “Live By Night” (Warner Bros., December 25) and producer Damon’s critically hailed “Manchester by the Sea” (Amazon/Roadside Attractions, November 18), respectively.

“They both have movies that could be there,” Todd told me. “They’re supportive. I’m hoping they give us great ideas.” They’re bound to come up with some mischief with Kimmel. Remember the bit when Affleck smuggled Damon onto the show clinging to him inside a fat suit?

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During a recent phone interview, DeLuca and Todd  gave me some leads on what their Oscar show will be like. “This show celebrates one of the only artforms that’s been there for us in good times and bad,” said De Luca. “You can go into a theater for a couple of hours and let your burden down. Jen and I love storytelling, and this is a celebration of excellent storytelling. We can bring fanatical fandom to to it. We want to bring a sense of joy to it. This is not a roast.”

As they shape the show they plan to lean in to comedy. “We want comedians giving one-liners and funny presenters,” said De Luca. “But after two years of political cycles with everyone mad at each other and divided, we want to bring an evening of unified love for the movies that have been the best of the year, a light, breezy, fun, joyous night devoted to the movies that are uniting us rather than dividing us.”

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While they may not go as far as the musically driven shows produced by Meron and Zadan, “music has its place,” said De Luca. “This is not the Tonys. But music should be there, with clip reels used properly and great performances of the nominated songs are wonderful. A tribute musical number aimed at the right thing can be moving and enjoyable.”

The 89th Academy Awards will air on ABC on Sunday, February 26th.

Additional reporting by Michael Schneider

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