There might be a backlash as Facebook users finally put their foot down over privacy, but there is one awesome result from the questionable social networking site: Betty White. It started simply enough, one lone instance of fan fervor in a sea of fan-led movements: "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!" But it caught on like wildfire, inspiring over half a million people to join in and beg NBC for a little Betty. Their pleas were heard, and Ms. White hosted Saturday Night Live on May 8.
Sure, she has been riding a strong wave of popularity these days -- moving from the murderous Catherine Piper on Boston Legal to a stint in The Proposal -- but Betty achieved what the other popular celebrity hosts could not. Soaring over the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Gerard Butler, Sigourney Weaver, and Gabourey Sidibe, White earned the show its highest ratings since November of 2008, when Tina Fey was busy with her best Sarah Palin skits. As many of the show's former female cast members returned to act alongside Betty, they proved that Kristen Wiig alone isn't enough to balance out the test-fest of repertory players and bring in the audience numbers.
Naturally, the movement's wild success has not only lead to quests for other classic funny women to host the show -- like Carol Burnett -- but also a follow-up push to get White to host the Oscars. Last week, unfortunately, the Academy said no.
As MSNBC reported, Facebook fans directed their attention to the Oscars with: "Getting Betty White to Host the Academy Awards." The Academy, however, wasn't swayed by the push:
When the website reported the news, the fan page had 56,000 fans. Less than a week later, it has well over 100,000, quickly approaching the 150,000 mark. Clearly, there are a lot of people interested in the idea, and as the weeks go by, the number will surely continue to grow.But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says it isn't ready to let Facebook make casting decisions for film's biggest night.
Spokeswoman Leslie Unger says the academy plans to continue with its protocol of allowing the producers to select the host that will best serve the show they're trying to put together.
From one perspective, it's not hard to understand the Academy's attitude towards the push. Tradition dictates that they hire a producer, and that person sculpts the show. It would be questionable for them to hire someone for their creative input after making one of the most important creative decisions beforehand. From another perspective, however: Why not go for it? This just might be the change the Academy is desperate to find. The in to modern audiences.
We're not talking about some random niche movement that doesn't reflect general public consensus. This isn't like the push for a Firefly movie and Serenity failing to make its budget back. Fans spoke out, and White delivered with killer ratings. Her episode ranked 66% higher than the episode that aired one year ago (Justin Timberlake and Ciara). She proved her worth and her fans proved that they knew what SNL needed.
Now let's back up to the press around the last Oscar ceremony. Last October, word hit that Adam Shankman -- director of the Hairspray remake -- was going to be in charge. He planned to increase the comedy while celebrating entertainment, and there were many promises of a new and improved Academy night. The ultimate result: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin from It's Complicated led a bland, ill-shot night only saved by Kathryn Bigelow's win and random moments completely out of the Academy and Shankman's hands. To be fair to Shankman, he revealed in February that he wanted Borat's Sacha Baron Cohen to lead the night, and "the Academy swatted it down. They thought it was too big of a wild card."
Considering the Academy's fear of controversial hosts, and maybe a fear of seeming like the MTV Movie Awards, White is a prime choice. She offers a slew of supportive fans, true comedic talent that's saucy, but not exactly racy, and she'd be a chance to rectify one of the biggest snubs at the last ceremony -- picking Baldwin and Martin to host while the star of the film and one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses -- Meryl Streep -- was seated in the audience.
Let's take a look at hosts of the past. It took twenty-seven years to get a female host, when Thelma Ritter (Stella in Rear Window) got to lead the night alongside Bob Hope in 1955. That started a trend of matching a lady with the gents, right through 1957 when Rosalind Russell hosted along with Hope, David Niven, James Stewart, and Jack Lemmon. The sixties were woman-free, rectified in 1971, when Helen Hayes kicked off another burst of female co-hosts, a six-year span with Carol Burnett, Diana Ross, Shirley Maclaine, and Goldie Hawn before two ladies got to host the 49th in 1977 -- Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda alongside Warren Beatty and Richard Pryor. After that, it was sporadic. Liza Minnelli helped out in '83, Fonda returned for '85, and Hawn for '86. In 1993 -- finally -- we got our first solo female host with Whoopi Goldberg, who won the gig again in '95, '98, and 2001. And finally, we had Ellen DeGeneres in 2006.
The number is sadly low -- five in eighty-three years -- though obviously, five in the last twenty years offers a better percentage. What's most interesting is that the only women to host the Academy Awards have been an African American actress and an out lesbian talk show host/sitcom star, whereas the male hosts are predominantly white and straight. Having an 89-year-old host fits the minority bill, and would beat Bob Hope, who was 74 when he last hosted. In fact, it would make Betty the oldest involved in the ceremony, either as host, winner, or nominee.
Ultimately, however, it's not about the kitsch factor, or to break records. It's about something that would be good for all involved. It's good for White, good for women, good for the older actors of Hollywood, good for audiences, and good for the Oscars. The Academy has proven that they don't completely know what their audience wants with awards, and are increasingly switching things up to find the right formula. It might be rude to next year's producer, but it just might be time to listen to the fans who've proven their worth.
And if the Academy is scared of having an almost 90-year-old woman lead the long night all by herself, they can always go back to 1972 and invite Carol Burnett to co-host again. There's already a Facebook movement for that combo as well.
Do you think White could pull it off, and could she help reinvigorate the Oscars?