Donald Trump blew his big shot at Oscar glory. The President, who tweeted on Tuesday that Academy Awards ratings were down because he’s the only star left in America, had a shot at seeing his words on screen, during the telecast, on Sunday night.
According to “Jimmy Kimmel Live” head writers Molly McNearney and Danny Ricker, the Oscars had carved out some time to project, on the big screen behind host Kimmel, any choice Tweets from Trump, or any other top D.C. leader, about the show.
“We were ready if anyone decided to Tweet at Jimmy from the White House, we were fully prepared to Tweet back on a giant screen in the theater,” McNearney said. “If Trump, or Ted Cruz or anyone else had tweeted at Jimmy, we were ready to go.”
Alas, Trump saved his critique until the ratings came in, writing Tuesday, “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore – except your President (just kidding, of course)!”
“He loves that so much, he comes alive,” McNearney said of Kimmel. “If they had any idea how much joy that brings him they probably wouldn’t do it. There is nothing that can make him happier.”
Kimmel actually kept the political jokes to a minimum on Sunday, and only referenced Trump once the entire evening.
“Depending what website you read, we did the most did the most political, divisive Oscars in Oscar history,” Ricker said. “People see what they want to see in these broadcasts. Leading up to it, we talked a really long time what the balance would be. We talked way more about politics last year just because that was what the country was talking about. Trump had just been sworn in. This year we had bigger things to cover.”
McNearney said up until the night before the telecast, there were at least three more Trump jokes in the monologue, but they ultimately decided to cut them for space and tone.
“We definitely had a lot more Trump jokes, we had plenty ready to go,” McNearney said. “[But] we wanted to talk about the movies. That’s what the night is about. So we made the decision to do a little less Trump, a little more focusing inward on Hollywood and the problems and the things to celebrate about it.”
IndieWire spoke with McNearney (who celebrated her birthday on Monday, the day after the awards) and Ricker about some of this year’s most memorable Oscar moments, as well as what got cut for time, and what audiences didn’t see. Some highlights:
“Jimmy said, ‘I want to go out there and roll the dice again and we don’t know how it’s going to go,” Ricker said of the bit, which required convincing enough celebrities to walk over to the TCL Chinese Theatre multiplex and surprise a group of movie goers. “That bit could have fallen on its face so hard!”
McNearney said that segment was the one that kept her nervously awake the night before.
“We’ve done things on our show before, like give them a new car, and their reaction is very underwhelming,” she said. “That makes for terrible live television. That’s what made it risky, to go on one of the most-watched nights of television to surprise people. [Instead] you couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.”
The idea spawned out of last year’s stunt, in which Kimmel similarly brought in a group of “civilians” off a Hollywood tour bus into the Dolby Theatre, and all went well — until it was discovered later that one of the most memorable fans had just been released from prison.
This time, Kimmel’s producers took no chances. They know that TCL multiplex well — it’s across the street from the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” studio, after all — and know how easy it is to walk there from the Dolby. That’s when they hatched the plan to set up a screening there, choosing a movie not out yet — Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” — in order to maximize attendance.
“We hatched a screening, which is very common in L.A., and hoped that no one thought it was suspicious that it was happening next door to the Oscars on Oscar night.” Ricker said. “People had to park off site and then get bussed in because they don’t let people within a three-block radius. We told them they might be on camera for a commercial, keeping it vague but asking them to sign releases. We did background checks and luckily some people in the Dolby wanted to play along.”
“It’s funny to say we wanted to plan a spontaneous moment, but that’s what we did,” McNearney said. “We loved the bus bit last year and wanted to replicate that feeling of connecting with the audience. We liked the idea of bringing A-listers into this theater and shocking movie goers.”
“One of the writers said we should have a t-shirt cannon, and we were going to shoot loose Skittles out of it,” Ricker said. “But then we realized it was basically like a shotgun. We thought we might harm people. We decided to try hot dogs instead, which were softer.”
But the t-shirt cannon still looked a bit menacing on camera. “We were nervous about people busting into a movie theater with things looking like guns, so we had to make them cartoonish,” McNearney said.
According to Ricker, even “The 700 Club” host Pat Robertson was raving about the hot dog cannon the next day.
“He was telling his co-host that he was delighted about it,” he said. “These gigantic hot dogs are a piece of art.”
“People are very concerned with their wardrobe at these things, and the fact that she brought a second dress, just for this jet ski thing, we were already in love with her,” Ricker said.
The jet ski giveaway — to the Oscar winner with the shortest speech — was first planned for last year, and originally involved awarding a new car.
“We didn’t want it to be too classy,” McNearney said. “We thought if we gave away a car it wouldn’t be as funny. We wanted a ‘Price Is Right’ feel, and we lowered the bar. Plus we decided it would be very funny just to hear the word ‘Kawasaki’ at the Oscars.”
McNearney said the producers had to go through the usual legal process of conducting a contest on a TV show. “We thought it would be funny to see a jet ski on stage at the Oscars, but also entice people to give shorter speeches,” she said. “We know that’s someone’s giant moment and wanted people to take their time, but we also thought we could give people an out if they were running low on things to say, and go home with a jet ski!”
“We really enjoy mentioning people who don’t know they’re going to be mentioned,” Ricker said. “The Days Inn did not know it was going to get a shout out. I think they were stoked.”
Toward the latter half of the broadcast, the “Star Wars” star planned to showcase a Vitamix machine from his seat, in order to further entice short speeches. But producers worried they had burned the joke into the ground already, and time was running short anyway.
“We cut that in the moment, but it did result in me developing a phone relationship with Mark Hamill, which is a boyhood dream for me,” Ricker said. “I don’t know what happened to the Vitamix, but I hope Mark went home with it.”
“His delivery was really cute and he was natural and he was off-book way before Jimmy was,” said McNearney. “He was very prepared. And Jimmy wanted to make sure that the kid was carrying a stick because Jimmy always carried around a stick when he was a kid. I didn’t know that about him until the Oscars!”
“Our writers Eric and Tony came up with this idea that we would put in one called ‘Fish Kisses,’ and we would get Taylor Swift or someone to do this huge production for this fake song, which would start earnest but then just get ridiculous about a woman falling in love with a fish,” Ricker said.
Oscar producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd said yes — but then crunched the numbers and realized it would cost $300,000 to pull off. “We also thought maybe adding another number would test the patience of the audience,” McNearney added.
That’s also why a proposed song by the Lonely Island was also nixed. “These things cost a lot of money and you’re out there relying on casting, which we’ve learned from our show is the most challenging thing — getting people to agree to do these things,” she said.
“We had a few pre-tape ideas but we decided it was better to keep Jimmy in the room, because that’s where you need the energy,” McNearney said. “There were so many clip packages in the show already, so we kept all of our comedy live. We had less bits this year and more jokes.”
That’s also why they avoided a big open. “You don’t get credit for a cold open in these things,” Ricker said. “I think a lot of people feel like the show starts when the host gets out there and starts doing the monologue.”
“Jimmy has discovered that a fed audience is a happy audience, and most people there are hungry. He feels it helps make people laugh and keeps them in the room,” McNearney said. “But he didn’t want to give away food on air this year. We feel like we’ve done it, Ellen’s done it, and people at home don’t really want to watch celebrities get free food.”
The lunchboxes, depicting all nine best picture nominees, were inspired by vintage lunchboxes, including the “Welcome Back, Kotter” one that Kimmel has at home.
The food inside the box created much debate inside the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” offices, however. “Jimmy really wanted to give everyone in the audience a hard-boiled egg as a snack, in reference to ‘Shape of Water,'” McNearney said. “We got into a full blown screaming match in the writers’ room. We’re not giving out hard-boiled eggs at the Oscars! It will smell so bad in that room, and it’s a gross thing to eat in a dress! He was dead set on giving everyone a hard-boiled egg and a peach! But I shot it down.”
“He wanted to suggest that Whoopi Goldberg slip him some pot, but she was probably in the back smoking pot at that time,” quipped McNearney.
Kimmel, McNearney, Ricker and their teams were already back to work on Monday with a new episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” It’s too soon to predict whether Kimmel will be brought back for a third consecutive year, but the producers felt this year’s show managed to hit all the right marks.
“We knew Jimmy was going to be walking out into a little bit of a landmine this year with all of the different issues,” McNearney said. “You cannot possibly please everybody at once. But I think he did a really good job navigating it, and remembering that the Oscars shouldn’t carry the weight of the world on it. It’s an awards show for a bunch of rich people and they give each other gold statues.”
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