This year's Academy Awards telecast seemed to suggest that the job of host was too big for one person. Still, as good a job as Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did together, maybe the producers should have gone in the other direction and gone with no host at all.

Being Oscar host is a hard enough job for one person; it's tripped up such skilled comics as Chevy Chase, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. You have to be able to pay homage to the prestige of the occasion while deflating the pretensions of the pampered Hollywood egos in attendance. You have to play to the insiders in the room and the outsiders watching at home. And you have to keep things zipping along in a show that seems doomed to run 3 1/2 hours no matter what you do. This year's Academy Awards telecast seemed to suggest that the job of host was too big for one person. Still, as good a job as Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did together, maybe the producers should have gone in the other direction and gone with no host at all.

Being Oscar host is a hard enough job for one person; it's tripped up such skilled comics as Chevy Chase, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. You have to be able to pay homage to the prestige of the occasion while deflating the pretensions of the pampered Hollywood egos in attendance. You have to play to the insiders in the room and the outsiders watching at home. And you have to keep things zipping along in a show that seems doomed to run 3 1/2 hours no matter what you do.

Shortly before the show, on the red carpet, Tina Fey noted that both men, who have hosted 'Saturday Night Live' more than any other performers, are comfortable in front of a live audience, but that hosting the Oscars might be even easier than hosting 'SNL' for them because they had to be responsible for only about 20 minutes of material.

On paper, Martin and Baldwin both seemed like ideal hosts. Both have impeccable comic timing and deadpan delivery, capable of turning on a dime between seriousness and mockery. Both have been embraced by Hollywood yet remain outsiders to the more exclusive club of Oscar winners (a tension that all-time champion Oscar host Bob Hope managed to milk successfully for decades). Plus, Martin had hosted nimbly twice before.

As it turned out, Martin and Baldwin worked well together, with Baldwin taking most of the straight lines and letting Martin take most of the punchlines. They bickered amiably, offering on stage a parody of the friendly one-upmanship going on in the front rows of the Kodak Theatre. They didn't sing and dance (they left that task to opener Neil Patrick Harris, apparently auditioning for next year's Oscar hosting slot), but they rattled off some well-written jokes, did some good sight gags (donning 3-D glasses to peer at James Cameron, spraying pesticide on some of those floating mystical seeds from 'Avatar,' cuddling up together to watch part of the show from under a Snuggie). And they provided levity when things threatened to get somber (as Martin did when he followed 'Precious' screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher's tearful, halting speech by fake-boasting that he'd written the speech for Fletcher).

Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin Open the 82nd Academy Awards


Not everything worked (a 'Paranormal Activity' parody was a time-waster), but overall, they seemed to meet the job's impossible demands.

Still, imagine if the Oscars followed the example of the Golden Globes and the Grammys and had no host. For one thing, the show would be 20 minutes shorter. (Or maybe the producers would find time to restore the Honorary Oscars, like those given this year to Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman, instead of shunting them aside to a separate event.) It's not like the entertainment world's most august awards ceremony needs jokes at its winners' expense, especially if it offers enough other spectacle (movie clips, music, dancing, tearful speeches, wardrobe near-malfunctions). Plus, no one is ever going to do as good a job as Hope or Billy Crystal (who apparently can't be coaxed back to the Oscar podium), so by not having a host, the Academy won't risk disappointing viewers at home or embarrassing the bigshots inside the theater.

The Oscar producers tried a lot of innovations this year -- 10 Best Picture nominees, no Best Song nominee performances, more intimate seating for the nominees, no stage time for the president of the Academy or the PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountants who count the ballots. But if they really want to make a change that would streamline the show, what if they just got rid of the thankless emcee job?

Aw, hell, just get it over with and announce you've already hired next year's host. Suit up, Neil.

Who should host next year's Oscars?
Nobody. They don't need a host.144 (16.9%)
Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin should repeat.188 (22.1%)
Neil Patrick Harris. He's hosted everything else.181 (21.3%)
Bring back Billy Crystal!338 (39.7%)