LOS ANGELES, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The controversy over the choice of raunchy comedian Chris Rock as host of this year's Oscars telecast may be a tempest in a teapot, but it is helping to draw attention to what was otherwise shaping up as a routine Academy Awards show.
In an era when, for any number of reasons, the TV audience for awards shows is shrinking year by year, even the biggest of them all stands to benefit from pre-show publicity -- even if it involves a host whose no-holds-barred manner of speaking turns off some people.
Rock has been at the center of a mostly Internet-driven back-and-forth about whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could have chosen a more decorous host for this year's telecast. The conversation spilled over into the mainstream media after Internet gossip Matt Drudge posted an item quoting an unidentified "veteran Hollywood mogul" as saying that Rock was a poor choice.
"Simply put, this is a disgrace," said the mogul.
Drudge highlighted some quotes from recent interviews in which Rock admitted he never used to watch the Oscars.
"It's a fashion show," Rock has said. "What straight black man sits there and watches the Oscars?"
While he was at it, Drudge threw in what he characterized as "other unpublicized comments" by Rock that he said "threaten to throw the scheduled Feb. 27 broadcast into complete chaos."
Telecast producer Gil Cates had a different take, however. He issued a statement that reflected anything but chaos at the show's production offices.
"Chris's comments over the past few weeks are meant to be humorous digs at the show that some people, obviously including Chris himself, think may be a bit too stuffy," said Cates.
Even before Cates issued the statement, academy executive administrator Ric Roberts had already told Daily Variety that Rock was in no jeopardy of losing his gig as Oscars host.
"There hasn't even been a peep from our membership," said Roberts, "and we're really excited about him hosting."
But Martin Grove, a veteran writer at The Hollywood Reporter, told the New York Post that some academy members were very concerned about how Rock might perform on the telecast.
"They think that maybe Chris is not suitable for the job," Grove said.
The Rock controversy, to the extent that it truly rises to the level of controversy, is really just a new manifestation of an established custom in Hollywood at Academy Awards time: to fret about any telecast host whose name is not Billy Crystal, or perhaps Steve Martin.
To be sure, the show has had some explaining to do in recent years.
David Letterman fans may still insist he did just fine as host in 1996, but the record states that the academy did not invite him back. Whoopi Goldberg played to mixed reviews in 1995, came back for another shot in 1997, and has not been invited either.
It is not surprising that Cates handled the potentially disruptive Chris Rock story with aplomb. This is his 12th time producing the Oscars show -- giving him more experience in that department than anyone else.
Not only did he say he doesn't mind Rock's irreverent comments about Hollywood's big night, Cates also advised the public to get over it as well, since he expects Rock "is going to be saying things just like that in the show."
Cates told the Los Angeles Times he issued the statement not because he or anyone connected with the telecast was concerned but because he saw it as a way to address the contretemps and move on.
"Besides," he said, "if nothing else, it reminds everyone that the Academy Awards are being broadcast on Feb. 27."
By the way, of course the Academy Awards is a fashion show -- among other things. It always has been, given Hollywood's historical role as the world's dream factory.
On Tuesday -- while others were taking up the Chris Rock discussion -- the academy was putting fashions from the top names in couture on display in Beverly Hills, Calif., at the 77th Annual Academy Awards Fashion Preview. Oscar fashion coordinator Patty Fox and 20 models previewed the glamorous fashions that TV viewers will see when the nominees, presenters and other guests hit the red carpet in front of the Kodak Theatre.
"The Oscar red carpet has become the largest fashion show in the world with each couture gown an individual work of art," Fox said. "Inside the theater the evening is all about film. But on the red carpet it's the look that counts."
The preview included the work of such designers as Bill Blass, Halston, Isaac Mizrahi and Valentino.
In case the news hasn't reached you yet, the Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 27 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, in ceremonies to be televised by ABC with Chris Rock -- more than likely -- as host.
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