(Courtesy of The New York Times)
LOS ANGELES — Brian Grazer, a prominent film producer with recent credits on both “J. Edgar” and “Tower Heist,” is stepping in to produce next year’s Oscar awards show, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said on Wednesday, a move intended to quickly repair the damage caused by the sudden departures of the ceremony’s co-producer, Brett Ratner, and its host, Eddie Murphy.
Earlier on Wednesday the Academy announced that Mr. Murphy was dropping out as the Oscar host, just one day after Mr. Ratner stepped aside amid a storm of criticism over his use of an anti-gay slur. Their departures left the Academy scrambling not only to fill key roles on the show but also to protect its core asset, a telecast that brings it about $80 million a year.
The unraveling began on Tuesday morning when Mr. Ratner, named the Oscar co-producer on Aug. 4, resigned because of the furor provoked by his public use over the weekend of an anti-gay term, and a subsequent, salacious discussion of his own sexual habits on Howard Stern’s radio program.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation strongly objected to the derisive comment, and a flood of objections by Academy members and news-media commentators made clear that if Mr. Ratner remained in charge of the Feb. 26 Oscar show on ABC, the broadcast was going to be as much about Mr. Ratner as the movies.
On Wednesday Mr. Murphy followed Mr. Ratner — his friend and the director of his latest film, “Tower Heist” — out the door. Producers and hosts work closely as a team on the telecast, and with Mr. Ratner gone it was not surprising that Mr. Murphy would step aside as well.
“I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner, Brett Ratner, and we all wish him well,” Tom Sherak, the Academy’s president, said in a statement.
In his own statement Mr. Murphy said he understood and supported “each party’s decision with regard to a change of producers.”
“I was truly looking forward to being a part of the show that our production team and writers were just starting to develop, but I’m sure that the new production team and host will do an equally great job,” he said.
Whether Mr. Grazer might get Mr. Murphy to return, given their mutual work on “Tower Heist” and the “Nutty Professor” films, remained an open question.
On Tuesday Mr. Sherak tried to cast Mr. Ratner’s resignation as a teachable moment. “It is our sincere belief — as well as Brett’s — that this terrible event may ultimately raise awareness and yield some good,” Mr. Sherak wrote in an e-mail to the Academy’s approximately 6,000 members. Mr. Sherak said he was joined in those sentiments by Dawn Hudson, the Academy’s chief executive since June, and Ric Robertson, its chief operating officer.
If the Academy is squinting for a silver lining, it might also find another bright spot in the timing of the changes. With Mr. Ratner and Mr. Murphy moving on, the Academy and its governors get another shot, sooner rather than later, at rebooting an annual ritual that still draws around 40 million viewers in the United States (and many more abroad). It remains one of TV’s biggest events, despite a widespread sense that it is losing its connection with an audience that wants to love it.
Mr. Ratner was to co-produce the show with Don Mischer, a past Oscar producer who remains in place. Though plans for the program were still being formed, they had intended to bring an extra-heavy dollop of comedy — hence Mr. Murphy— to a ceremony that might not have looked much different from the variety-show-style ceremonies of years past.
Mr. Grazer, 60, is an old-school film producer who took Hollywood by storm almost 30 years ago with a clever comedy, “Night Shift,” directed by Ron Howard, Mr. Grazer’s co-owner in Imagine Entertainment. They followed with the romantic mermaid fable, “Splash,” that in 1984 became a hit for Mr. Howard and its stars, Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. Mr. Hanks is among the Academy’s governors, and has been a force in shaping its course in recent years. Mr. Grazer, meanwhile, has become known for producing a rich mix of comedies, dramas and fantasies, one of which, “A Beautiful Mind,” won the best picture Oscar in 2002.
If Mr. Murphy does not step back in, the Academy will again confront the usual questions about whether to pursue an Oscar veteran, like Billy Crystal, who would know the drill and require less phase-in time, or fresh faces like last year’s hosts, Anne Hathaway and James Franco. One outside possibility would be Oprah Winfrey, who is being honored here this weekend at the Academy’s Governors Awards.
Mr. Ratner has apologized for his comments, but from the beginning he was viewed by many in the industry as an unlikely choice for co-producer, because of his bad-boy image and history of Hollywood high jinks.
Mr. Grazer and Mr. Mischer will confront the rigidity of Oscar tradition, which insists on thank-you speeches, celebrity presenters and the inclusion of myriad awards for obscure short films, leaving little room for a producer to maneuver. Only a little more than 30 minutes of a show that typically lasts for about 3 ½ hours is actually devoted to programming. Speeches by winners and presenters fill perhaps twice as much air time.
But the Academy might find someone with fresh notions about how to connect viewers with the show, and, by extension, with the movies themselves.