For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.
It's Oscar time again, the silly season in Hollywood, when normally sedate and sober people from all walks of life become giddy upon seeing carefully coiffed celebs doing the air kiss and the dazzling smile.
I covered the Oscars six or seven times, strapped into a tux and weighed down with credentials around my neck. When I worked for Variety, Oscar night was the biggest story of the year, and almost the entire staff was mobilized to cover it. Later, in the L.A. bureau of the New York Times, my usual duties lay in the real world, covering forest fires, criminal trials and other events with more down-to-earth ramifications. But when Academy Awards time came around every year, I'd help out, interviewing delirious fans gawking at the procession on the red carpet and making note of the comments of Oscar winners parading through the press center. What always amazed me, though, was the behavior of some of the reporters who cover show business full-time, for whom Hollywood is, apparently, everything. These people applaud when an actor walks into a room and laugh uproariously at the lamest of the actors' quips. The dazzled reporters gush, fawn and swoon, and they throw any pretense of objectivity out the window.
Glaring examples of such obsequiousness occur every year at the Academy's nominees luncheon, held at the Beverly Hilton a few weeks before the Oscars. Each nominee submits to a few questions from reporters, some of whom (the young ones, usually) can barely contain their excitement, clapping like kids at the zoo. Here's a clue, people: You don't applaud the subjects of your stories, whether they're Hollywood stars, corporate CEO's or downtown cops. It smacks of hero worship, and obscures the real picture for your audiences.
On Access Hollywood last night, for instance, co-host Nancy O'Dell insisted that Richard Gere was her pal. Instead of a real interview, she kissed and hugged him and then hinted broadly that he should ask her to dance. The man had no choice. And the story seemed more about her than about Gere.
Here's another bit of advice: Stay out of the story. Unless, of course, you're doing real-world reporting in a place like Iraq and you get kidnapped by thugs with long knives and AK-47's.
Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, normally a somewhat staid institution, succumbs to hyperbole around this time. A biography of this year's host, Jon Stewart, on the Oscar.com Website says that, on The Daily Show, Stewart has interviewed "celebrity icons" like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. It strikes me that "celebrity icons" is not a term Stewart himself would have used.
Luckily, relatively few reporters covering Hollywood are overwhelmed by its glamorous trappings. Some step back and offer insights that actually illuminate. David Carr, in the online column "The Carpetbagger" for the New York Times, wrote this morning that not many people have gone to see this year's Oscar-nominated movies because the American public "has the collective I.Q. of a box of day-old donuts."
He said people are apparently more interested in watching the TV show Skating with Celebrities.
"If that is what constitutes a great evening of competition and glitz," Carr wrote, "bring on the Oscars, please. At least the pratfalls on the Oscars will be accompanied by better frocks."
In the end, the Academy Awards are just an exercize in self-congratulation.
Allison Hope Weiner, in The Times, put it best. She described the week leading up the Sunday's Oscars as "days and nights of cocktails, luncheons and benefits, when the illuminati of the entertainment world clink Champagne flutes and pat one another's backs, generally rejoicing in their fabulousness."
This is Nick Madigan of the Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.