As last-minute preparations and rehearsals were busily taking place at the Dolby Theatre for this Sunday’s 95th annual Academy Awards, I was able to carve out some time with AMPAS CEO Bill Kramer on Wednesday to talk about the show, handling potential crisis situations, continuing controversies about Oscar campaigning and social media, plus the future of the broadcast with ABC and the Dolby Theatre venue, where it has taken place for several years.
He was in a very upbeat mood about what he was seeing so far in his first year as CEO — so involved with the Oscar show with new Academy President Janet Yang and what they hope will be somewhat of a return to Oscar’s former glory. It’s been a rough couple of years that saw the broadcast deeply affected by the pandemic and then the infamous Will Smith-Chris Rock slap, which we also talk about, including Kramer’s reaction to Rock’s Netflix comedy special and its timing just a week before this year’s show.
Here is our conversation:
DEADLINE: How is the show shaping up from your point of view?
BILL KRAMER: I just got back from a rehearsal. You know, the things that we really wanted to focus on this year — celebrating all of the categories on air, bringing in teams of partners who know live TV. So Jimmy [Kimmel], [producers] Glenn [Weiss], Ricky [Kirshner] are really leaning into the sort of content that only the Academy can provide. So lots of behind-the-scenes footage, lots of amazing moments that really illuminate the many disciplines of moviemaking, focusing on collaborations. I think it’s going to be a beautiful, entertaining, fun show that really celebrates moviemaking. That’s what we want. … I mean, look, it’s great for us when big films are nominated. We love the fact that there’s a wide range of movies nominated this year. You see it in the Best Picture category, but it’s all about continuing, I think, an amazing narrative from this year around the celebration of movies, people going back to theaters. Obviously, Top Gun and Everything Everywhere sort of kicked it off last calendar year, and we want to continue that celebration. It’s an exciting moment for movies, and it’s a pivot point in our industry, and it’s great to help continue that excitement around movies.
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DEADLINE: Jimmy Kimmel is back as host this year, his third time. How important is it to the flow of the show to have a host, and actually a comedian like Kimmel?
KRAMER: You bet. I absolutely do. Jimmy’s been a dream to work with. He knows live television, live audience, you know, better than anyone. I think it’s so critical to have that energy onstage. He knows how to move things along, and the host creates these kind of moments that knit the evening together. I think you absolutely need that to make a television show that holds people’s attention, and no one does it better than Jimmy. We’re honored that he decided to join us this year.
DEADLINE: Kimmel famously presided over the 2017 show when La La Land mistakenly was announced as the Best Picture winner, a bit of a PR nightmare for the Academy. You had stated to Time magazine that the Academy, for the first time, has now hired a “crisis team,” an idea that seems to have come directly out of last year’s incident with Will Smith and Chris Rock. There has been a lot of attention in the press to this. Why was it necessary?
KRAMER: Your question’s a great one, Pete. You know, I think, over the last couple of years, it’s required us to think through — and that’s what we’re doing right now — a wide variety of things that can happen on a live TV show, and I just want to make sure that we, the Academy, are prepared for anything that can possibly happen. So this conversation around a crisis team is really about how we’re mobilizing on site, given certain scenarios, who has the authority to make decisions. It’s really about being buttoned-up about how we react in real time to things. So it’s been a great exercise for us.
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DEADLINE: Chris Rock got a lot of attention over the weekend for his Netflix comedy special in which he finally took Will Smith on for that infamous slap incident. What do you feel about the timing of this coming a week before the Oscars and putting it all back front and center in people’s minds?
KRAMER: You know, I think what’s important for us is that we’re moving forward. And you know, Pete, you were at the Nominees Luncheon where Janet Yang very clearly owned that we, as an Academy, have to be better prepared and have to be much more nimble and clear in our response to things. I really want to focus on that. You know, I think it’s great that Chris spoke his truth. I can’t speak to the timing of that, but we are ready to move forward.
DEADLINE: Another controversy erupted for the Academy in terms of Andrea Riseborough’s successful grassroots Oscar campaign for a Best Actress nomination. The board decided not to rescind her nomination, but you said the Academy will be revising its campaign regulations, especially for use of social media in campaigning. But how important is social media overall to the Academy? Do you really want to discourage its use?
KRAMER: Well, I’ll start with social media, and then we can go over to [Riseborough]. Social media’s a great leveler. I think, when used in appropriate ways, it’s an amazing promotional tool. People can speak from the hearts. The Academy have really leaned into social media, seen great growth, and are followers on Instagram and TikTok.
We have new partnerships this year with Facebook and TikTok and Letterboxd. So we’re really leaning into the social media space. I want to think very differently about how we’re defining our metrics for success. Is it just how many people watch the show live that night? Of course we want that number to be huge. Of course we want people to tune in, but there are many extensions to the show.
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You have, you know, Hulu. SVOD will give us [live] plus-3 and plus-7 numbers. You know, YouTube TV, you can watch it night of. You know, Hulu + Live, you can watch it night of. There are all of these different ways to engage with … at Oscars.com, Oscars.org, all of our social channels. Disney+ is in some international markets this year for the first time live, in addition to all of our affiliates overseas.
So, you know, there are many ways to engage with the show, and more and more social media will be a big part of that, and so we’re leaning into that in a big way. And Pete, I don’t know if you’ve been tracking our social media, but we’ve, I think, been doing a great job of really highlighting the nominees in a very dynamic way. The response has been great. Our follower numbers are increasing rapidly. So it’s a great place to celebrate. It’s a great place for discourse. So, you know, we love social media when used properly.
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Moving over to campaign regulations, our goal there — and you’ll be seeing the results of this in a couple of months, is to really make sure that they are clear — that they are equitable, and everyone understands what they can and cannot do. I think, through this experience over the last couple of months — or really, it’s just been a little more than a month — you know, it’s taught us that if someone, and I’m not referencing Andrea, but just in general, if you’re new to campaigning, those regulations may not be totally clear, and we want to make sure that they are crystal clear for everyone. So our goal there is to work with many members of our board and committees to come up with some regulations that feel appropriate for today and that are easy to understand.
DEADLINE: And it seems much of the problem revolved around use of Instagram accounts where other nominees or potential nominees were referenced, always a no-no with the Academy in past seasons, and the Academy has taken action when that happens.
KRAMER: Exactly, and we’re going to be thinking about how do we create language around that, that makes any mention of other nominees or, you know, referencing how you vote very clear. So you’ll be seeing some clarifying language around that, too.
DEADLINE: Just this week another incident regarding the use of an Instagram account came up when Best Actress nominee Michelle Yeoh’s account reprinted parts of a Vogue magazine interview with her just as voting was going on and, as part of it, used a paragraph where the interviewer brought up another nominee, Cate Blanchett, intimating that her two Oscars might be enough and a win for Yeoh would be historic. Since it first appeared it has now been taken down from her account. Any comment on that?
KRAMER: We were pleased that it was taken down.
DEADLINE: Can we look to the future of the Oscars on ABC and at the Dolby Theatre, the venue you have used for several years?
KRAMER: So, and I think you and I may have talked about this a little bit, but we just re-signed with our great partners at Disney ABC, our international deal. When I started, we also revised our Dolby Theatre to end in 2028. So, right now, our domestic deal with Disney ABC, our international deal with Disney ABC, and our Dolby Theatre deal all terminate in 2028. (Editor’s note: Coincidentally, that will be the 100th anniversary year of the Oscars.) What this allows us to do is to really think about the evolution of the show in a variety of ways. So right now, we’re loving the Dolby. We’re going to be looking at how the show evolves beyond 2028, and the point of lining those end dates up was to allow us to rethink the show in a variety of ways. So you’ll be hearing more about that in the not-so-distant future.
DEADLINE: ABC is a longtime partner now. There was talk last year that they were very influential in taking some of the crafts categories off the live show and rolling them in to save time. How involved is ABC in talking about what you’ve got going into the show this year? How are you all working together, because you do have all 23 categories back on the show?
KRAMER: You bet. We’ve been in conversations with ABC on a weekly, if not daily, basis since July. They’re in our meetings with producers. It’s a truly collaborative effort. So the Academy, ABC, show producers, those teams are in constant conversation. So, you know, I have to say, this is my first year working on the show directly. Our experience with ABC has been fantastic. They’ve listened. They have great ideas. They have a very strong point of view about live TV. They’re experts in that area. So I have to say that the relationship, for the last, you know, many months, has been collaborative, helpful and very symbiotic. So it’s been great so far.
DEADLINE: Can you say now that those 23 categories, going forward, are not in danger of being cut or pre-taped as some were last year? That they will always be done at the same time as all the other categories?
KRAMER: You know, all I will say is we’re constantly looking at the evolution of the show. It was very important to us to include them on the show this year. That’s very on-mission for the Academy. I think we can make an incredibly entertaining show with all awards live. That is the plan for this year, and we will continue to evolve the show after this year.
The 95th Annual Academy Awards airs on Sunday March 12, on ABC starting at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET and will also be broadcast in over 200 territories worldwide.
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