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Ellen DeGeneres temporarily broke Twitter, delivered pizza to starving A-listers, landed a few decent jokes in her brief opening monologue and, in general, delivered a safe, entertaining Academy Awards telecast that kept the Oscar ceremony moving right along. For the most part, Ellen maintained the spotlight where it belonged: on the evening’s nominees and winners.
Did you expect anything less?
The Academy needed to change course. It could not have been happy with the fallout it endured in recent years. The Monday after the Oscars last year was dominated by reactions to Seth MacFarlane’s racy bits as host, most notably the tasteless, "We Saw Your Boobs." Funny? Sure. But the Oscars is, was and forever shall be the wrong outlet for a joke like that.
Go back to 2011. The oddball pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco dominated headlines in the hours and days following that Oscar ceremony, to the point where few probably remember what movie won Best Picture that year (it was The King’s Speech), but they’ll never forget Franco in drag:
Hiring DeGeneres to host the show was a deliberate move back to "center," and co-producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron received the show they hoped she’d deliver. It wasn’t edgy. It wasn’t controversial. But it worked. It had one extremely inspired bit (the Twitter "Selfie") and one bit that shold have bombed (the pizza gag) but worked because the A-listers in the room are extremely comfortable around DeGeneres… and vice versa.
Ellen’s talk show, I believe, makes a world of difference. The last time she hosted, she was a stand-up comic and actress whose material played to multiple demographics. DeGeneres, last night, was a polished talker, a host who knows how to keep a show rolling, who is comfortable improvising in the moment and who has legitimate rapport with the massive celebrities sitting in the audience. It is part of the reason DeGeneres spent almost as much time working the crowd as she did on stage.
Which resulted in this historic group shot:
It currently has 2.6 million retweets.
Was Ellen the "best" choice for an Oscar host? That’s going to depend on your sense of humor, I’m sure. Some prefer the biting sarcasm of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, though they’re perfectly situated at the Golden Globes… a ceremony that prides itself on being looser, faster and liquored up. Personally, I’m holding out hope that Eddie Murphy gets the opportunity he was denied years ago. Maybe his stand-up skills aren’t as sharp as they used to be. But Oscar’s stage typically fits comedians well, which is why Ellen, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Jon Stewart are remembered as the better Oscar hosts, and David Letterman is not.
"Have you kids met Keanu?"
After MacFarlane, the Oscars needed to reset. They needed to win audiences back with a safe, palatable program that mainstream America could digest. Mission accomplished. From what I can tell, to paraphrase Jim Gordon, DeGeneres was the Oscar host we need right now, and probably the host we deserve.