What Everyone Is Talking About Today

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NEW YORK ( -- And the winner is ... Jon Stewart.

The L.A. Times’ Steve Pond posted on the paper’s Web site last night that 43-year-old star of “The Daily Show” is all but wrapped up to be the host of the 78th Academy Awards, with an announcement expected today. We worry about calling you the winner, however, given the fate of past Oscar hosts.

Photo: AP
Jon Stewart

Oh Jon, you may be a darling of Hollywood thanks to your nightly puncturing of the Bush Administration, but tread carefully, my friend. The Oscars have taken other worthy comedians down before. (David Letterman, have you recovered yet?) Even someone as inside Hollywood as Steve Martin found himself so hemmed in by the comedy landmines that he was reduced to doing most of his shtick about lusting after Halle Berry and other nubile starlets.

Heed the cautious tale of Chris Rock. Universally acknowledged as bitingly hilarious, he broke a cardinal Oscar rule when he failed to realize that Hollywood wants Oscar night to be a chance to be gently laughed along with, not skewered. There are a lot of egos in that room, and they need to be stroked oh so carefully to get those laughs.

And speaking of egos, there are some that for the sake of the Academy and Hollywood need to be checked at the door. The Oscars ratings have been steadily declining in recent years, and from Watercooler’s observation of longtime Oscar-night viewing, the culprit can be traced to all those agents, lawyers and producers names trotted out to be thanked by the award winners.

Yes, we all know you are the folks who really run the town and we all know this is a business, but when the machinery of that business takes over from the illusion of glamour, you’re all lost. So if you were smart, you’d all tell your nominees in no uncertain terms that they are to keep their speeches as personal as possible, thank their spouses, their moms, their dads, their grandmas, their kids, their gay acting teachers, their best friends (who hopefully are their fellow co-stars). But under no circumstances are they to mention the people who paid them or helped them get the job.

The audience doesn’t care. They want to think that if they were a star’s best friend, they’d be thanked before the lawyer. That’s what low-carb muffin baskets and champagne are for the next day.

With the tapping of Stewart and last year’s hiring of Chris Rock, the Academy is acknowledging it wants to bring down the age of the audience. But what they should also heed is that same audience that devours “The Daily Show” also likes its celebrity tabloids. It’s an audience particularly attuned to personalities.

So that means Jon, please, please, please bring your writing staff with you, since that’s the sensibility we want to see. And please consider singing. Why do you think they kept asking Billy Crystal back? It’s a night for song and dance, and not a night for business.

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