For such a tenured award show, it seems like the Academy Awards have spent the last decade in a near constant state of flux. Almost every year brings with it some type of change to the format of the venerable broadcast, and the style of host varies wildly from year to year. 2011 brought us the disastrous combination of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts - leading to the welcome, but ultimately too safe choice of veteran Billy Crystal the following year.
2013 saw the arrival of Seth MacFarlane to the hosting chair, who bumped ratings along with ruffling the feathers of attendees with off-color jokes. This led to another safe choice in Ellen DeGeneres for 2014. Finally, Neil Patrick Harris was drafted to host this year's Oscars, after several well-received outings as host of the Tony's. Unfortunately, his style seemingly didn't translate to the Oscar audience, as total viewership dropped to its lowest level since 2009's Hugh Jackman hosted affair.
So what are Oscar producers to do now? According to Variety, their answer is to turn back the clock and go with Chris Rock: a high-profile previous host known for making the Hollywood elite uncomfortable at awards shows. The out-of-the-box pick, then safe choice cycle continues unabated.
Of course, Rock is a choice that truly rides the line between safe choice and risky proposition. He's safe in the sense that he's one of the most popular stand-up comedians of all time, and has a proven track record of successful award show outings. However, much like MacFarlane, Rock couldn't care less who his jokes rub the wrong way. Rock's prior Oscar gig came back in 2005, with his edgy, take no prisoners material earning him high marks from critics and audiences, and the on-stage scorn of Sean Penn. Rock has also fronted two editions of the MTV Video Music Awards, and the 2014 BET awards - pissing off more celebrities and entertaining more viewers each time.
A factor in Chris Rock returning to the Oscar stage is likely new co-producer Reginald Hudlin, who served as director on the pilot episode of Rock's autobiographical sitcom Everybody Hates Chris. Hudlin and fellow co-producer David Hill were placed in charge of the 2016 ceremony back in September, and have promised changes intended to spice up the sometimes stale format of the broadcast. Sadly, one of the planned changes is not cutting down the show's often interminable running time.
Whether the selection of Chris Rock results in a ratings upswing for the Oscars is a hard thing to predict, as the facts that influence what the viewing public wants from the ceremony seem to change each year. Rock is a big enough name to conceivably pop a rating, but simply hiring a big name is not always a certain means to a successful Oscar telecast. (Ask hot young stars of the moment Franco and Hathaway about that presumption.) However, one thing's for sure: if Rock takes the job, some people in the audience are really not going to like what he says about them.
The 88th Annual Academy awards telecast airs on February 28th, 2016.