Scott Harris February 21, 2013
When the Oscars air on Sunday night, all eyes are going to be on host Seth McFarlane. He’s created several cult hit cartoons (such as “Family Guy” and some other shows that sure look a lot like “Family Guy”), and yeah, his debut feature film was an international blockbuster (“Ted,” of course), but as the old saying goes: “Comedy is easy; hosting the Academy Awards is hard.”
Regardless of whether he’s great or terrible, McFarlane is sure to have plenty of company. After all, over the past eight decades, the Oscars have seen dozens of hosts and co-hosts come and go, ranging from the sublime to the truly terrible.
So with that in mind, here’s a look at our picks for the Top 5 and Bottom 5 Oscar hosts of all time. And don’t worry, Seth, there’s no pressure. After all, there will only be a billion people watching worldwide.
5. Jon Stewart Like all of the hosts on our best list, counter-culture icon Jon Stewart has hosted the big show more than once. And like all hosts, he had his good moments and his bad moments, with his uneven 2006 hosting gig basically a warm-up for his stellar 2008 return engagement. Stewart had one thing going for him that almost no other host has had, though, namely the cast and (writing) crew of the award winning “Daily Show.” They helped turn Stewart’s hosting gigs into a tightly run comedy show – and the best Oscar telecasts of the past decade.
4. Whoopi Goldberg One thing you could count on from Whoopi Goldberg as Oscar host is that she never played it safe. That resulted in some of the greatest Oscar shows ever (i.e. 1996), and also some of the worst (like 1999, when she dared the producers to invite her back by launching into a series of controversial jokes). It’s a mark of Hollywood’s respect for her that they brought her back anyway in 2002 for her fourth hosting gig. In other words, she was Ricky Gervais before there was a Ricky Gervias.
3. Johnny Carson Following up a legend like Bob Hope is no easy task, so the Oscars did the logical thing: They brought in another legend to replace him. Hosting the show five times, including a four-year run from 1979-1982, Johnny Carson was at the height of his game and the peak of his popularity when he took over as emcee, and he did nothing to diminish either. Later attempts to recapture the Carson magic by bringing in other late night talk show personalities as hosts haven’t always fared so well (foreshadowing!)
2. Bob Hope Beginning way back in 1940, Bob Hope hosted or co-hosted the Oscars a whopping 19 times over a period of nearly 40 years, stepping onto the big stage a final time in 1978. The consummate showman, Hope was always ready with a quip, but he also kept the show grounded in old school Hollywood glamour and class – things sorely missing from most recent telecasts.
1. Billy Crystal Newer film fans may wonder what all the fuss is over Billy Crystal as Oscar host, but his unmatched run as emcee shouldn’t be judged by last year’s effort, where a game Crystal subbed in on short notice after that whole Brett Ratner fiasco. A nine-time host, Crystal set the standard with his stellar run from 1989-92, which included the creation of his signature Best Picture medley to open the broadcast. Simply the best ever.
5. Frank Sinatra Ol’ blue eyes hosted the event twice, once solo (in 1963) and once with co-hosts (in 1975) and both were disasters. In 1963, the entire event was nearly derailed when Sinatra was barred entry to the parking area by Oscar security guards because he didn’t have the right sticker on his car, forcing him to ditch his car in a distant lot and make a last second dash to the venue. But that was peaches and cream compared to 1975, when, upset at Hollywood’s liberal trends, he delivered an on-air speech denouncing the political views of the honorees. Hey, getting old isn’t easy, but most people at least don’t do it on national television.
4. Chevy Chase After co-hosting in 1987, Chevy Chase was brought back as solo emcee in 1988 despite less than stellar reviews the first time around. The result was an epic fail, though Chase doesn’t deserve all the blame; a writers strike derailed preparations for the ceremony, leaving Chase to fend for himself. And he fended poorly, as his slash and burn style — he began the show by saying “Good evening, Hollywood phonies” — simply made the excruciatingly long ceremony even more excruciating.
3. David Letterman Hard to believe it’s been 18 years since David Letterman’s disastrous hosting gig at the 1995 Oscars turned into an industry punchline. But all these years later, it’s still even harder to believe that the show was such a mess. After all, Letterman was pretty much at the peak of his game in ’95, with “The Late Show” becoming a counter-culture touchstone and frequently beating “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in the ratings. As a result, expectations were sky high, which helps explain why his “Uma, Oprah” joke has become one of the most infamous flops in the history of comedy. Still, at least Letterman was a good sport about it; he memorably returned in 1997 to spoof his own failure as part of Billy Crystal’s opening montage.
2. Nobody Given how difficult it apparently is to find a decent host for the Oscars, the Academy decided on a unique solution in 1989: No host at all! In a way, it almost makes sense — unless, of course, you’ve actually seen the broadcast. Which most movie fans have, as it’s generally considered to be the worst Oscar telecast of all time. Just ask Rob Lowe, who kicked off the show with a duet alongside Snow White in a musical number completely unsanctioned by Disney. They seriously contemplated a lawsuit over the mess, while film buffs around the world seriously considered taking up stamp collecting as a hobby instead. Just a complete mess.
1. James Franco and Anne Hathaway It seemed like a good idea at the time: Counteract sagging ratings and flagging interest by tapping two of the hottest young stars in Hollywood to co-host. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about everything? Nearly two years later, Franco and Hathaway are still trying to live down one of the biggest train wrecks in live television history, which featured Franco treating the entire ceremony as a sardonic inside joke that only he got and Hathaway trying to overcompensate by turning into the most chipper ham the stage has ever seen. Fans are still debating which of the two was to blame, but there’s one thing that isn’t up for debate: Franco and Hathaway are the worst Oscar hosts of all time.
2013 Oscars, Academy awards, Anne hathaway, Billy Crystal, Bob hope, David letterman, Frank sinatra, James franco, Oscars 2013, Rob Lowe, Whoopi goldberg