Instep Today

Oscars telecast secrets

Instep Today
By Michael Schneider
Fri, 02, 20

Uncovering the Eminem contingency plan, Janelle Monae opener, and that Cats gag.

If you’re still wondering how Eminem wound up performing at this year’s Academy Awards, credit Justin Timberlake for the idea — sort of.

Timberlake opened the 2017 ceremony with a performance of his hit ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’, and since then, the Oscars has embraced including high-energy musical numbers to liven up the telecast.

Last year, Queen featuring Adam Lambert opened the awards with ‘We Will Rock You’, an ode to that year’s nominated film Bohemian Rhapsody.

But since that Timberlake performance, ABC Entertainment alternative/specials/late-night senior VP Rob Mills said the network and the Academy had been looking for a way for Eminem to finally, much belatedly, perform ‘Lose Yourself’ during the Oscars.

“It’s something we’ve talked about for years,” Mills told Variety on Monday. “Because that was one of the great film anthems of all time, and anthems all together. But it’s one that he never performed on the Oscars. After Justin opened the show with ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling,’ you saw how a number like that can really inject some energy into the show.”

The breakthrough came with Oscars producer Lynette Howell Taylor, who was a producer on last year’s A Star Is Born — which featured a soundtrack released by Interscope (Eminem’s label). “Lynette had a relationship with Eminem’s people and Interscope, and I think she’s the one who made miracles happen and got him out there,” Mills said.

‘Lose Yourself’, from Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile, won the Oscar in 2003 for best original song. But the rapper wasn’t in attendance, and at the time, some reports suggested that Academy officials were nervous about having him perform — and potentially curse — on the live broadcast. But in a 2015 interview on his SiriusXM radio station, Eminem said he simply skipped the ceremony because he didn’t think he would win — and didn’t understand the symbolism of the award. “I always thought like rap never gets as fair shake on anything. That was one of the reasons I didn’t go for the first Grammys I was invited to,” he said at the time.

That changed this year, and after it was done, Eminem was clearly pleased: “Sorry it took me 18 years to get here,” he wrote on Twitter. But up until the day of the telecast, it wasn’t clear if he’d actually perform.

“Lynette really kept [the secret] high level, and I think it was really on a need-to-know basis for people,” Mills said. “For him, the most important thing was secrecy. I think he might have backed out if it had leaked. I think on Saturday or Sunday if it had leaked, he might say, ‘No, people know about it, I don’t want to do it.’ He really wanted this to be a surprise.”

‘Lose Yourself’ took place in the middle of the telecast, and that scheduling was on purpose: Had Eminem backed out, removing the number from the run of show wouldn’t have had much impact on the telecast. Instead, the opening number went to Janelle Monae. “Lynette and Stephanie [Allain] wanted to do a big, huge, energy-infused opening number,” Mills said. “We saw with Justin and then last year with Queen, you cannot put a price on opening the show with energy like that. It was also great seeing people say, ‘This reminds me of the old-fashioned Oscar openings, but with fresh energy and a new voice’.”

Meanwhile, without a host, the producers emulated last year’s formula of bringing on a comedy team to perform an opening monologue. This year, it was Steve Martin and Chris Rock.

“You need comedy and you need commentary on the nominations,” Mills said. “Obviously those are two comedy geniuses so when we heard they wanted to do it, that was amazing. There were a lot of different ideas, but you need to open, after the music, with some comedy before you get into the awards. That’s an Oscar tradition.”

A-list presenters carried some of the heavy lift normally handled by a host. Among them: James Corden and Rebel Wilson, dressed like their characters from Cats — in a bit of a swipe at that film’s disappointing results. Mills said Corden came up with the idea and recruited Wilson to play along.

“Lynette and Stephanie were really about inclusion, which meant new Hollywood voices with old school Hollywood royalty,” Mills said.

Meanwhile, although this year’s Oscars made history, with the Parasite sweep making for a tremendous storyline, the ratings were disappointing — sinking 20 per cent from last year.

“It’s difficult and obviously it’s disappointing, and when they’re down you always feel like someone just threw cold water in your face,” Mills said. “It’s also hard not to get caught up in how much everybody loved this, and how historical these Oscars were, and you have to take them both into context. You have to look at everything and see what we can do to stem the tide beyond the things that are out of our control — like people are watching TV in different ways and they’re streaming. You also have to say, OK, a year from now people are going to forget the numbers but remember the fact that Parasite pulled off this historic win.”

– Courtesy: Variety