Why the Academy needs to drown this controversy in a healthy dose of 'The Muppets'

Posted by · 11:58 am · November 9th, 2011

So I put the question out to you, both here and on Twitter: Who should host the Oscars now that Eddie Murphy has bowed out?

The replies include the usual wish-list picks (Neil Patrick Harris, Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey) to preferred returning emcees (Hugh Jackman, Steve Martin, Jon Stewart) to interesting original picks (Albert Brooks, Amy Poehler, Craig Ferguson). And while those are all nice and make sense for various reasons, I think the best option is staring us right in the face.

I have to come clean. I was not aware of the online campaign to get The Muppets to host the Oscars (which obviously lost steam once Eddie Murphy was tapped) until this morning. You can read all about it @MuppetOscars and at Facebook. And here’s the thing: BRILLIANT.

Let’s start broadly. The Academy is stepping out of one of its most unfortunate controversial episodes. It’s going to be hard to get anyone’s mind off of all of this no matter which direction you go, but what better way to divert all that attention than to line up Jim Henson’s fabulous contribution to comedy history for a good ole’ variety showcase?

It’s not arbitrary, obviously. A new film featuring the characters, “The Muppets,” is set to hit theaters just before Thanksgiving. The Oscars are on ABC, which is owned by Disney. Disney is distributing “The Muppets.” Synergy! And after last year, certainly there isn’t any reticence to have contenders from the season featured in that capacity.

Imagine the segues. Imagine the interlude when Kermit gets to sing Best Original Song nominee “Pictures in My Head” or when Jason Segel and Jim Parsons take the stage to join in the singing of “Man or Muppet.” Not to mention the rousing “Life’s a Happy Song,” which would get Amy Adams and more into the fold.

Then there’s the opportunity to have Fozzie up there offering up a few bad jokes before introducing this or that presenter. Cutaways to Statler and Waldorf in the balcony lamenting any number of things (thanks to reader Stefan for reminding me of that.) And hey, The Muppets have already successfully tried their hand at parodying one of this year’s potential contenders. This stuff is in their blood!

It’s a great way to just put this whole mess behind us. These are variety show vets! And I imagine it would broaden the audience for the show. That has been an obvious goal for the last couple of years.

I reached out to “The Muppets” screenwriter Nick Stoller (who I interviewed at length earlier this week — check back for that in the coming days) to get his thoughts on this admittedly outside-the-box potential scenario. And the more we talked, the more he got energized by the idea.

“I’d totally be on board,” he said. “You could have The Electric Mayhem as the house band!”

He says he thinks it would be best to have a real person host in addition, but I don’t personally think that’s necessary. The Muppets can carry the show handily. The thing is, logistically, is three or four months enough time to get something like this off the ground? Stoller seems to think so.

“As long as you’re not doing crazy, high production stuff,” he said. “The Muppets are a guy under a chair. You need a chair with a hole in it. If you try to do a big musical number, that’s where things start to get tricky. And the puppeteers are really good at improvising things if they need to do that.”

There you have it. Stoller said in our interview earlier in the week that every comedian owes a debt to The Muppets. With that in mind, he says he thinks the job of an Oscar telecast host is to “lightly rib Hollywood and just kind of expedite the proceedings,” and he mentioned Steve Martin and Billy Crystal as personal favorite emcees as of late. He was a big fan of what Ricky Gervais did on the Golden Globes, but he admits the Oscars are not necessarily the place for anything that harsh. Regardless, I don’t think anyone is going to get bent out of shape for being sent up by a Muppet.

There is a report out there that Tom Sherak has asked film producer Brian Grazer to step in and save the show. And much as I respect Grazer and think he’d be a handsome choice to produce, I say “boo” to that. Unless, of course, he likes this idea for a host. In which case, come on down.

The bottom line is this: I was kind of bowled over by “The Muppets.” I didn’t expect to be, but I was. I went into the film thinking, you know, whatever, The Muppets. But once the lights went down and the curtain drew open, I was shot right back to childhood. The memories took over and a big smile grew on my face and stayed there the rest of the movie.

The film is all about saving things for posterity. It’s about remembering something special, cherishing that and never forgetting. It’s also about finding your inner talent and having the courage to share that talent with the world.

Isn’t that the kind of thing you want for an Oscar telecast?

For year round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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