Oscars Producers Talk Jimmy Kimmel, Will Smith, Absent A-Listers and Next Year’s Show (Exclusive)
On Monday morning, Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, the veteran live TV and awards show specialists who served as executive producers of Sunday night’s 2023 Oscars telecast, spoke exclusively with The Hollywood Reporter about the Jimmy Kimmel-hosted show — how they feel it went; how they hope people interpret its forthcoming ratings; what they made of Tom Cruise and James Cameron’s absences; how Lady Gaga’s performance came together at the last minute; and whether or not they and/or Kimmel have already signed on to return for next year’s telecast.
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How are you guys feeling?
KIRSHNER I feel pretty good. I haven’t read anything yet, so I hope I feel good in a half-hour! But we always say the metric is, “Do we feel that we produced the show that we set out to produce?” Because we set a high bar for ourselves. I really feel that we delivered on what we said we would do — honoring the crafts and showing off the movies that were out there this year — and Jimmy scored, I thought. So yeah, pretty happy.
WEISS On top of that, I’d say there was such a nice buzz in the room and at the parties afterwards. That’s a little bit of a barometer, too: how the vibe was walking out of the space. It felt like the vibe was really cool.
Have you guys seen any ratings intel yet? And when the ratings are made public, what would be a fair way for people to interpret those and evaluate the success of the show?
WEISS I have not. And I don’t know if people should read into any of that right now — again, I’m saying that without knowing what is coming in. We did a lot of little subtle things, and I’m not even sure that people at home know what was brought to them. For example, for months we’ve been designing the set to be an immersive experience for the audience. So a winner’s name is announced, and as they’re walking up to the stage, pictures from their movie were surrounding the audience. It’s a little subtle thing that I think really clicked with people — they started to sort of care and understand and, in some cases, root for people. So I think a lot of things were really effective in a subtle way that might not even be noticed.
KIRSHNER Yeah. I’m not a big ratings or data analyst guy, but I would hope that with all the buzz out there, maybe people will go check it out and we’ll get a nice +7 rating [which reflects not just people who watched the show live but also people who watch a DVR recording of it within a week of it airing].
KIRSHNER We collected over 1,500 images of people working of movies, so I’d really like to thank all the branches and governors that helped us pull that together. It was a massive undertaking on our team’s side, but I think it really paid off in the end, and we couldn’t have done that without their help.
Glenn, you produced “the Envelopegate Oscars.” Last year was “the slap Oscars.” What will this year’s Oscars be remembered for, as far as that sort of shorthand? What will be the main, quick reference for people, in years to come?
WEISS I think the feeling. I know a lot of people who didn’t know many of the movies this year but watched, and they were like, “I couldn’t turn it off.” That, to me, was the biggest compliment. The flow of the show, the way it kept moving, kept people engaged.
Tom Cruise and James Cameron were behind the two most commercially successful movies of the year — Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water, respectively — and neither showed up. Tom’s excuse was that he was too busy shooting the next Mission: Impossible, but that film’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, who was, like Tom, nominated as a producer of Maverick, and also as a writer of it, was there last night. As people who are trying to put on a show that will attract as many viewers as possible, is that annoying?
KIRSHNER I don’t think so. We’re doing the show for the people in the room and the people watching at home. Some people make it and some don’t. Glenn honestly said on Wednesday [during a preshow press conference] that Gaga wouldn’t perform, and then on Thursday and Friday that changed. We just go with the flow and produce the show for the people that are there and the people that we’re working with.
WEISS Ricky’s right. Maybe it’s a different mindset for us coming from the world of live television, but things change all the time, Gaga being just one example of it. We anticipate certain people showing up and then they don’t, and then conversely, somebody who wasn’t available suddenly was available last-minute. Our whole mode of operation is to be able to bend and mold and still create the show that we want, hopefully with the best names there, but regardless of who’s there.
Speaking of Gaga, what changed?
KIRSHNER Honestly, and this is not to pat ourselves on the back, because we’re very bad at that, but we’ve built up trust in the relationship with Gaga over the years — I did the Super Bowl with her and Glenn has done many awards shows with her, including the “Shallow” performance on the Oscars. She really wanted to do something. She honestly was shooting her movie [the Joker sequel] — there was no trickery involved. And Thursday, at four-something, we got a text that she wanted to try something, didn’t have time to put together a big performance, but wanted it to be raw and people to see the real Gaga, and, with a voice like that, you don’t need much more than that.
Talk about how you guys and Jimmy strategized about the degree to which you wanted to address the Will Smith stuff.
WEISS I think Jimmy’s handling of it was not ignoring it but not making too much of it either. Jimmy, with his humor, is going to address things a little bit differently. The few references throughout were right in line with the tone of how Jimmy’s comedy works, and I think it did work. We didn’t want to harp on anything. A point was made, and we moved on.
Let me ask you about presenters. The best actress presentation is traditionally handled by the previous year’s best actor winner, but that wasn’t an option this year. In the end, you had last year’s best actress winner, Jessica Chastain, present both best actor and best actress, accompanied by Halle Berry, and I wondered if that pairing came about because you were anticipating that you might have — as you eventually did — the first Black best actress winner be part of the presentation to the first Asian best actress winner? And similarly, did you ask Harrison Ford to present best picture because you anticipated that you might have — as you eventually did — a reunion between him and his Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom co-star Ke Huy Quan?
KIRSHNER We make those decisions, and we take them seriously. There’s a lot of discussions with the talent, and a lot of negotiations. And I don’t think it’s a secret — because I saw it in [THR] — that Harrison was supposed to present with Glenn Close, but she was not able to make it at the end of the day. That was just a pairing of two Hollywood greats. And it just turned out that he wound up giving it to Everything Everywhere, and Glenn [Weiss] got a great shot of the two of them together. As far as Halle and Jessica, we also had Ari [Ariana DeBose] and Troy [Kotsur] give the two supporting awards together. We just tried to do things a little differently this year. We had done the Tonys with Ari and she’s just so great, and the way she played off of Troy, I thought was a really sweet moment.
Since you mention Ariana, was there any discussion about directly referencing her BAFTAs performance — she did make a little passing reference to it at the SAG Awards — or is that just too inside-baseball?
KIRSHNER A little bit of inside baseball and a little bit of she had moved on.
It felt like you didn’t have to — or didn’t choose to — play off too many winners; when some didn’t heed the advance warning about not having multiple speakers, you just sort of muted their mic, but most of the speeches were pretty tight and gracious, and I think the only one that got political was the one for Navalny, which didn’t seem to bother anyone.
KIRSHNER Yeah. With awards shows, you’re at the mercy, for lack of a better term, of speeches, and we had some great ones last night. I’ve got to go back and look at the show, because sometimes when the speeches start I start looking at the rundown of what’s next, but there were some great ones — the Daniels and Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh and Brendan Fraser. Just some really fantastic speeches.
How involved are you guys with the decision about who’s in or out of the In Memoriam montage? There are always gripes about omissions; this year, I’m hearing a lot of people are unhappy that Anne Heche and Marsha Hunt didn’t make the cut.
KIRSHNER We’re not involved in those decisions. And there’s a bigger listing [of people who died in the last year] on the website of the Oscars.
WEISS Yeah. We crafted the performative element of it [involving Lenny Kravitz], but there’s actually a group at the Academy that meets and discusses who to include.
[An Academy spokesperson clarifies that the Academy committee that makes In Memoriam decisions features a representative from each of the organization’s 17 branches, and some names that are more familiar to audiences cannot be included because all branches are entitled to representation during the limited time alotted for the segment.]
I believe it was announced during an all-member meeting of the Academy last year that the Academy hoped to sign its producers and host(s) to multi-year deals, rather than have to scramble to book and prepare new people each year. So, are you guys and/or Jimmy already signed up to do next year’s ceremony, as well?
WEISS We’ll get back to you on that. [Laughs.]