The Oscars, which held their first awards ceremony at the stately Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in 1929 and their first TV broadcast in 1953, are meeting the digital age head-on: Producers of the 2023 Oscars telecast, which airs on Sunday, March 12, will put up QR codes at the end of most “acts” of the show, heading into commercial breaks, inviting viewers to learn more about a particular craft.
And they plan to address the incident that dominated, and in many ways derailed, last year’s show – the stunning moment when Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock after Rock told a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
Those were two of the news breaks that came out of a Zoom call held on Wednesday, March 8 in which eight key members of the creative team met with entertainment journalists. The biggest news that came out the session is that Lady Gaga will not be performing her Oscar-nominated “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick on the telecast because she’s busy making a movie, Joker: Folie a Deux, in which she’s playing Harley Quinn opposite Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker.
The Oscar team understood her decision. “She is in the middle of shooting a movie right now, and here we are honoring the movie industry and what it takes to make a movie,” Glenn Weiss, one of the show’s executive producers and showrunners, said on the call. “After a bunch of back and forth, it didn’t feel like she can get a performance to the caliber that we’re used to with her, that she’s used to. So she is not going to perform on the show. However, this is all from our point of view of somebody making a movie and us completely understanding that that’s what’s a priority in this business, especially when we’re honoring movies.”
Oscar show production talent who participated in the Zoom call were Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, executive producers and showrunners; Molly McNearney, executive producer; Sarah Levine Hall, producer; Rickey Minor, musical director; and Dave Boone, Agathe Panaretos and Nefetari Spencer, writers. The session was moderated by Jacqueline Coley, awards editor for Rotten Tomatoes.
McNearney is not only executive producer of the 2023 Oscars, she is also executive producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live! and, since 2012, the wife of the host of both shows, Jimmy Kimmel.
Here are eight selected highlights of the conversation:
On Acknowledging ‘The Slap’
Molly McNearney: “We’re going to acknowledge it, and then we’re going to move on, because I think that’s probably what everyone wants, especially in that room. We don’t want to make this year about last year. But, yeah, it’s certainly something that we can and will address in a comedic fashion.”
On Bringing QR Codes to the Oscars
Ricky Kirshner: “At the end of most of our acts, we’re going to put up a QR code and let you go see the nominees that are going to come up. So, like, at the end of one of the acts, we will say: “To learn more about the cinematography nominees, scan the QR code on your screen,” and we will take you to a two‑ or three‑minute package to really humanize those people. You’ll meet all the nominees in that category and really give yourself a rooting interest for not only the film you might like, but the people you might like and learn a little bit more about what they do and who they are.”
Glenn Weiss: “It’s allowing us not just to be a television show, but us to cross platforms and invite people to watch the show and, also, take in content, you know, digitally as well. It’s really important for us that people who are watching the show are invested. And the more they know about the nominees, for example, the more they might have rooting interest for who’s going to win. And in that case, it makes it more must‑see, so to speak.”
On Finding the Right Tone
Molly McNearney: “We don’t ‑‑ we’re not going to make anyone mad in the room. We’re trying to book those people on Monday [on Jimmy Kimmel Live!]. So we’re not here to insult. We’re here to help celebrate. We’re here to lift them up. It’s a big night. We’ll obviously have a lot of laughs, but not so much at people’s expense. You know, we might take a jab here or there, but we really want people to have fun and feel good because they should.
Dave Boone: “Yeah. At the end of the day, it’s not a roast, it’s a celebration.”
On Overseeing Music on the Show
Rickey Minor: “We’re looking into making sure that this is 95 years of great music. And so diving through that, it’s a treasure trove. I mean, it’s hard to make a commitment to which things that we’re going to do. So we have a lot of material to choose from. …It’s about pacing the music where it’s not all dramatic play‑ons or very, you know, emotional, but things with tempo, things with ‑‑ stylistically from different continents around the world. And so, musically, it’s a celebration of film. And it’s ‑‑ because we’re here in Hollywood doesn’t mean that this is where it only happens. It happens all around the world for many years. And so, we’re going to celebrate that.”
Ricky Kirshner: “We will have our orchestra on stage, and they’ll be featured a lot in the show this year. I know people like to see them. And obviously, Rickey likes his time on TV.”
Rickey Minor (playing along): “Yeah, it’s in the contract.”
On Juggling Jimmy Fallon Live! and The Oscars
Molly McNearney: “It was a lot of work doing [both shows] at one time. We’re dark now, this week, which is nice. So we can just focus on Oscars. But I will say there is definitely a greater sense of pride for a writer getting a joke on the Oscars than on Jimmy Kimmel Live! And I think it’s a much bigger audience, and these jokes are being quoted in the press the next day, and they ‑‑ everyone wants their hand on one of those moments. But it’s a very collaborative ‑‑ it gets really exciting in the room when someone says a joke and someone else makes it better. And I think that goes for the teamwork of the show too. Like, we’re all here to help each other look better.”
Glenn Weiss: “This has been ‑‑ I have done award shows for a very long time with very many hosts. This has been such a multi‑month collaboration with both Jimmy, Molly, and the rest of the staff. But, honestly, I’ve never seen a host as engaged, and it’s been a really, really great experience. Jimmy loves movies … and everything that has gone back and forth between, you know, the folks at Kimmel and folks at the Oscars, it has been a really great build and a great experience that has gone on for months. It’s not just, “We’re dark week of.” … You guys are putting in so much more than that.”
On What’s Keeping Them Up at Night
Molly McNearney: “Honestly, keeping us up at night in my house right now is just deciding which jokes are going to make it and which aren’t. Because, again, we have a lot of great writers and a lot of great material. And it’s a real science and the rhythm of the monolog and figuring out where to take the audience. And I would say that’s keeping us up at night. Thankfully, we’re in the world’s best hands with this team.”
Glenn Weiss: “I think the only thing keeping me up at night are text messages, goddamn text messages in the middle of the night. Molly and Jimmy are in the bathroom brushing their teeth, and then my phone buzzes, and then Bill [Academy CEO Bill Kramer] buzzes me, and then Ricky buzzes me. So if you guys stop texting at night, I would get sleep and the show would be great.”
Molly McNearney: “That’s when we come up with our ideas, okay? Right when you’re sleeping.”
On Whether They’re Concerned About Ratings
Glenn Weiss: “I will say there’s always concerns. But at the end of the day, I think what we have to do is keep going forward and make this as great and entertaining and respectful and reverent a show as we possibly can. You know, this entire business is going through a little bit of a transition. That said, our objective is to do our jobs well and to give you a really great show to watch. We can only hope the ratings go in the direction that we want them to, but we are just ‑‑ we’re committed to making this something that will be appreciated by everybody viewing it.”
Some Parting Words of Advice
Glenn Weiss: “You will not want to miss the top.”
Ricky Kirshner: “An opening you don’t want to miss.”