With all the speculation about whether this year’s Academy Awards ceremony will actually happen, we turned to funnyman Bruce Vilanch — who’s written for the big night since the first Bush administration — to find out what a writer-less Oscars might actually look like. Not surprisingly, he had a lot to say.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about the Oscars.
BRUCE VILANCH: Sure. [Pause] Oscars? What Oscars?
Yeah, that’s the question at hand. Is it even possible to do that ceremony without writers?
I don’t see how. [Laughs] It’s going to be an interesting experiment if they do. I mean, they can come out and read the list of the nominees, but all the other stuff certainly can’t be done, and certain awards can’t be presented without something being written about them. Unless somebody’s going to come out and do something extemporaneous. It’s weird. I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I’m certainly fascinated. I’m hoping they can come to some sort of resolution before then. Maybe they can get an interim agreement with the Academy, which owns the show, just the way that Letterman owns his show.
Is there a point of no return? Like, after a certain date there’s just no way that a show in the way we’ve come to expect it would be able to be put on?
Uh, no. I think, actually, if it came down to it, we could do it in a matter of days if it had to be done that way. But certainly I think that January 22, which is the day the nominations are announced, would be a point, kind of, of no return. I have a feeling that Gil Cates, who’s the chairman of the DGA negotiating committee and the producer of the [Oscars] show, would like to have a deal in place by then, because a lot of this stuff can’t be written until the nominations are announced. If it was necessary, [the telecast] could be written very, very fast. [Laughs] I don’t know how it would be done. You’d have to assemble a whole team of people, like monkeys [laughing] on typewriters in a room, hoping they come up with Hamlet. But it could be done. I mean, we rewrite the show as we go along for the host, so a lot of the stuff that would have to be done in a hurry would be the presenter material.
Wasn’t part of the issue that the Academy couldn’t show clips of the films during the show?
It was a routine [request]. They get a waiver for paying royalties on the clips for the films, and all of the guilds give them a waiver. Otherwise, it would cost them a couple hundred grand to pay royalties for showing the clips on the show. So they can still show the clips, they’re just going to have to pay for them for the first time, which is ironic. The writers are actually going to get paid while being on strike. That’s just entertaining to me, I suppose…. But that was before the Writers Guild invited independent production companies [like David Letterman's Worldwide Pants] to sign an interim agreement. And the Academy, which owns its show 100 percent, can sit down as an independent and say, ”Look, we want to sign this agreement, we’ll sign the same thing Letterman signed.” I would think that would be one way to go.
If the Oscars do go on without writers, would you watch?
Of course! I’d watch the show without sound. It’s the Oscars. [Giggles]
What do you predict will end up happening?
I’m hoping that the directors will hammer out an agreement fairly swiftly, and that the alliance will use that as a template for a writers agreement, and all of that can been affected by the time the nominations are announced for the Oscars. That’s my best case scenario.
What’s your most realistic case?
Who knows what’s realistic at this point. You’ve got them in a pissing match with Jay Leno over his monologue, so who knows what’s realistic anymore.