Oscar watchers weren't the only ones surprised when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selected Seth MacFarlane, best known for "Family Guy" -- an animated TV series of questionable mainstream taste -- to host the 85th Academy Awards (8:30 tonight, WTAE).
"This was in every way a complete surprise," Mr. MacFarlane said last month after announcing the Oscar nominations. "I didn't know I was being discussed. I didn't know that my name had come up. It came out of the blue and it was -- it made it that much more of a joy."
Although he had movie success last summer writing and directing the raunchy teddy bear-starring comedy "Ted," he is best known for his work on TV as the executive producer of "Family Guy," "American Dad" and "The Cleveland Show." That's not exactly the resume of past Oscar hosts such as Billy Crystal and Steve Martin.
Then again, Johnny Carson, best known for his TV work, hosted the Oscars on multiple occasions and recent efforts to draw more young viewers have included Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres and Chris Rock as hosts. In that context, Mr. MacFarlane is a less surprising choice.
Executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan said many people have assumed Mr. MacFarlane was picked after he hosted "Saturday Night Live" in September.
"We were well aware of Seth and what he could do way prior to that," Mr. Meron said. "In thinking about what we can do to make our stamp on the show, Seth provides everything that we were looking for in terms of the host because he is relevant to an audience today and he's funny, charismatic. He embodies a post-Millennium host in that tradition of Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Billy Crystal. He is the next step in terms of making the show current. And that was one of the goals that we had in mind, to make this show current."
As much as the Oscars are designed to honor the work of film professionals, it's also a business. The academy counts on a license fee from ABC, and ABC needs to sell commercials to make the expense of broadcasting the Oscars worthwhile. Advertisers will pay more for ads that reach a larger audience of younger viewers, which explains efforts to keep the show "current."
But it's not just about Mr. MacFarlane. Producers announced a tribute to James Bond on the film spy's 50th anniversary.
"After it was announced, we were reading some things, and the thing that was gratifying for us was [people] saying that it's finally been figured out how to reflect popular [films] within the Oscar show," Mr. Zadan said.
Mr. MacFarlane comes to the Oscars as a longtime viewer.
"I've seen most of the Oscars ceremonies. I haven't seen them all, there's a few that I've missed, but my mother was a huge fan of the Oscars and never missed it," he said. "The one Oscar image from the past that sticks out in my mind more vividly than anything else is Juliette Lewis in those cornrows. I don't know why that is. It's just the one that's glued to my brain. She made them fresh, she sure did. I've been a fan like anyone else. It's hard to find somebody who's not at least a casual fan of the Oscars."
Mr. MacFarlane said he intended to call past host Billy Crystal, but he also recognizes that no matter what, he'll be criticized.
"When was the last time you read a post-Oscar review where somebody in the entertainment press said, 'What a great host'? The last one I think I can remember was probably Billy Crystal," Mr. MacFarlane said. "I think a lot of them have been great but, you know, you go into it knowing that no matter what, even if you put on the greatest show in the world, you're probably going to be lambasted in the press. So you might as well enjoy yourself, do the best you can, knowing that the outcome is going to be the same. It's a ruthless bit of scrutiny that you're under, so I'm not going to think about that. I'm just worrying about making it as funny as it can be and as fun as it can be."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published February 24, 2013 5:00 AM