The Oscars can are well-known for being too long. Part of that is intentional, ABC certainly wants the ratings that ideally come from an annual event as well as all of the commercials. I think that the Oscars made some good strides to create a tighter show this year (which I will detail below). Part of the reason that the show was so good was that a lot of the acceptance speeches were really heartfelt and appropriately acknowledged serious issues with the gravity they deserved. The five nominees for best songs were also a diverse bunch that lead to five well produced jolts of energy throughout the show. But those two factors can vary. There are several things within the producers control that they work towards in terms of improving the flow of the show. I am a pretty big stickler with the timing of live shows. I stand by the belief that comedy cannot work over an hour and a half. Tighter shows have higher energy, less lulls and leave on a high note. The Oscars would be tough to get down to an hour an a half, but they should easily be able to whittle down by a half hour to a full hour.
1. A Host That Moves Things Along
As with most Oscar hosts NPH already seems a bit polarizing. Which always astounds me, what does the internet want in an Oscar host? Every year seems to be "the worst." But bottom line for me is that Neil Patrick Harris got the show off to a great start and he kept it moving. He was efficient in announcing presenters, kept the energy up and his jokes did not were quick and to the point. He brought some class and a good sense of humor. I know some wanted more jokes and gags, but a good emcee doesn't make the show about himself. The Oscars needs to look for more hosts like him or even have him back.
2. Best Supporting Actor Right Off the Bat
There was no monologue after the opening number, which I am sure that some missed. But transitioning right from the musical number into a major category set a good precedent for the night. Immediately we were seeing the results of an important category, it was a great hook. It also kept the energy of the song moving into the ceremony. They should stick with this format.
3. No Montages
This is another thing that the Oscars did well this year. There were no montages (aside from In Memoriam, which is different). This was one of my main complaints about the SNL 40th Reunion, it is a YouTube generation and we have access to any clips they might shows. Montages have taken up a lot of time in previous ceremonies and they chose wisely to exclude them.
4. Cut the Running Gags
This was one of the missteps in the hosting of the Awards (although more likely the writing and producing). NPH took a lot of time to set up and legitimize his predictions and continued to remind audiences about the bit throughout the show. Then, while the Oscars were running over four hours and we were finally getting to the four main categories he completed a lengthy punchline for a gag the audience had lost interest in. Not to mention the punchline (which honestly included some funny jokes) was inconsequential just recapped what we all saw (and Live Tweeted on top of that).
Running gags are tough in a format like this. It isn't a through line and there is no way to maintain the momentum that those types of jokes require. More bits like the Birdman/Whiplash gag would be preferable, that was so much more effective.
5. No Tributes
I have already had disagreements with people about the Sound of Music tribute. First off I thought that Lady Gaga did an amazing job and of course it is always great to see Julie Andrews. But in the context of a show that was getting close to 10:30 (central time) I was getting frustrated. There were eight categories remaining and the tribute included a montage (see Number 3). I think that the idea of giving a tribute to a classic is better in theory than in execution. This was one of the bigger time wasters that did not fit the rest of the night. The Academy should just produce another event where they can just focus solely on that movie.
6. Sing the In Memoriam Song During the In Memoriam Montage
This is something I have wondered for years. Why do they play the In Memoriam montage and then follow it with a song? Why not sing the song during the montage? It is possible that the producers don't want people clapping and interrupting the song and the singer wouldn't want to be upstaged during their performance. However the song would probably last longer than the montage, so the performer would still be highlighted. But this is one of those little changes that would make a big impact in the overall flow of things.
Also do better research. The internet catches omissions every year and it looks forward to doing it.
7. No Bits for Presenters/No Presenters That Waste Time
The presenters were really good this year. Mainly because they followed NPH's lead of performing in the service of the show. They kept things moving and for the most part did not make it about themselves. For the most part the presenters that bantered did it effectively (Kendrick & Hart, Saldana & Johnson). But then there was Travolta and Idina Menzel.
The bit made sense, Adele Dazeem was a popular meme. But NPH had just made a good joke about it and the presenter bit really dragged. When presenters joke excessively it can often seem self-serving and causes the show to lose momentum. In the past presenters like Kirk Douglas have really been guilty of this. The Oscars need to continue choosing presenters that are as efficient as most of this years.
8. Brief Recaps of the Honorary Oscars and Science Awards
One of the things last night's show did better than most was that the recaps of the Honorary and Science Awards were brief. I would not cut these segments because they do bring some perspective to the ceremony. This industry is not just about the flashy celebrity awards, but it relies on legacies and under acknowledged technical developments. The length and editing of the recaps were quick and properly acknowledged the people who deserved it. They need to continue this format.
9. Don't Recap the Nominees
This was not as bad as it has been in previous years. Grouping Best Picture nominees together rather than individually taking the time to acknowledge them saved time. But again, the audience has phones and can look up any movie they did not see. And anyone with an Oscar invitation knows the competition and the nominees essentially recap the Best Pictures anyways. Again, little thing that would make a large difference in the long run.
10. No Reaction Shots of Nominees
I realized that there were no shots of the contenders after their clips were shown while the nominees were being read. This helped out with the flow of each category and saved time overall. They need to keep this up.
11. Fewer Commercials or Get a Few Sponsors for the Night
Commercials are an albatross that television needs to figure out a way to get off of its neck (just as I need to figure out a better analogy). They are especially difficult in a long broadcast like this. Working out a deal with a few sponsors to limit the commercials for the night would be a revolutionary precedent that would be great publicity for the awards, network and advertisers. Network TV needs to change its game plan eventually, this is one of those areas they need to look into.
12. Start Earlier
So if the Oscars only run for two and a half hours, why not move them back an hour and a half? Start the red carpet coverage around 4:30 central and begin the Oscars at the start of primetime. People would be more likely to tune in since the awards would finish at a decent hour. Since the show would be tighter the Oscars could function as a lead-in for other programming. I love Jimmy Kimmel's post-Oscar shows, but never watch them because they start close to midnight. Improve the scheduling along with the timing.