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Why there’s no Oscars host this year

The 2019 Academy Awards are the first since 1989 to go host-free.

91st Oscars - Oscar Week: Animated Features Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

If you’re tuning in for the 2019 Oscars and wondering why there’s no host this year, the answer is about as dramatic as you might expect.

There’s plenty of uncertainty around the 2019 ceremony — especially given that it boasts one of the most unpredictable Best Picture races in recent memory. But when the Hollywood glitterati assemble for the 91st Academy Awards, perhaps the biggest mystery of all won’t concern any of the awards.

Instead, we’ll be awaiting the outcome of the months-long drama surrounding the Academy’s unsuccessful quest to find a host for the ceremony, and subsequent abrupt decision to have no host — for the first time in three decades.

The Academy originally announced in December that Kevin Hart had accepted the gig, only for Hart to quickly become embroiled in public backlash over old homophobic jokes he’d made. Reportedly pressed by the Academy to apologize, Hart then changed his mind about hosting and backed out, stating on Twitter that he didn’t want controversy around him to be a distraction from the awards.

“I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists,” he wrote.

From there, rumors spread that the Academy had approached several other possible candidates only to be turned down, both before and after the controversy surrounding Hart, perhaps due to the intense public scrutiny that accompanies the toughest hosting gig in Hollywood. The Rock told the media he’d been approached to host before Hart but declined due to scheduling conflicts. Eventually, the Academy confirmed that the awards would proceed without a host for the first time since 1989.

Though rumors emerged in the week before the February 24 event that Whoopi Goldberg would step in as a surprise host, they are probably greatly exaggerated. While anything can theoretically happen, all signs point to the Academy planning to emphasize its presenters throughout the evening, relying on them to help the ceremony flow.

This is probably a safe approach; the Oscars are a bloated ceremony to begin with, and controversy has already erupted this year over the organization’s attempts to cut down the telecast’s runtime by announcing a plan to award some categories during commercial breaks. These included the awards for cinematography and editing, and backlash was so swift and fierce that the Academy quickly had to reverse its decision.

And that’s after the Academy’s previous reversals of its widely criticized plans to add a new category for “Best Popular Film,” and to include performances of three of the five nominees in the Best Original Song category. (In the latter case, the Academy ultimately landed on featuring “truncated” versions of all five nominees — a decision that may have contributed to Kendrick Lamar and Sza declining to perform Black Panther’s popular “All the Stars,” even though it’s a likely frontrunner to win. In the end, only four of the nominated songs will be performed.)

All of these attempted changes, among others, seem to be a response to the Oscars’ decreased ratings in recent years — though even if they’d come to pass, they would have been imperfect solutions at best. As Alissa Wilkinson previously wrote for Vox, “It doesn’t take a statistics genius to see that people watch less live television than they used to — particularly younger people. There’s no reason to sit through an hours-long televised event waiting for something interesting to happen when you can binge-watch something on Netflix or go out for the evening, then catch the highlights on YouTube the next day.”

With that said, few people who’ve been following the drama can say they aren’t at least somewhat curious to see how this year’s host-free Oscars shake out. Especially because the last time the Oscars went without a host, in 1989, the result was one of the most terrible ceremonies of all time.

In sum: Maybe the 2019 Oscars will be boring! Maybe they’ll be an unmitigated disaster! But either way, we’ll be watching, so maybe the Academy will get its ratings bump after all.

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