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Tuned In: Crystal just ho-hum in a really slow Oscars show

Monday, March 27, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

At least there weren't any dance numbers. Too bad their elimination did little to improve the Oscar telecast.

The Academy Awards show started slowly -- 20 minutes of Billy Crystal's spoofs and singing that weren't as funny as his past Oscar intros -- and never got up to speed.

A half-hour into the show, there was already a pointless salute to children's film performances. The first significant winner -- Angelina Jolie for best supporting actress -- wasn't announced until 9:15 p.m.

Then it was another hour of clips and awards few people care about.

An unfunny appearance by the animated "Toy Story 2" characters fell flat. Afterwards a shot of Gwyneth Paltrow showed her looking as bored as the rest of us.

This year the best song performances were grouped together, slowing the creeping telecast to a crawl. Maybe it was smart to get them over with all at once, but placing the abbreviated renditions of nominated songs so early in the night -- after only one major award -- was a mistake and zzzzzzz. Oops, fell asleep for a minute.

Finally, just after 10:15 p.m., Michael Caine graciously accepted the best supporting actor award, providing the emotional uplift that makes awards shows worth watching.

The Oscar pre-show was more entertaining than the awards telecast. A year ago Geena Davis bored viewers to tears with a somnolent pre-show, but last night's telecast got off to a fast-paced start with Meredith Vieira, Tyra Banks and Chris Connelly interviewing arriving celebs on the red carpet.

Banks was a little too chummy, telling best actress nominee Hilary Swank, "I don't think you'll need any luck because I'm there for you." She also chatted with Cameron Diaz about her "side cleavage."

Connelly kept saying, "that's why they count the ballots." Vieira was mostly in fine form until the end of the pre-show when she rushed into the auditorium and embarrassingly sat on Clint Eastwood's lap, prompting him to say, "I'm busy right now."

Those criticisms aside, ABC's pre-show moved at a quick pace and gave the audience good views of the fashions they tune in to see (much better camera angles than E! had).

During both the ABC and E! pre-shows, Haley Joel Osment was everywhere. He may even have been hiding under Banks' dress, which looked like something a life-size Barbie doll would wear. The funniest pre-show moment came when Banks interviewed Erykah Badu and the ABC camera could barely capture them together. The combination of Banks' poofy dress and Badu's Marge Simpson-like head wrap made for a hilariously surreal scene. (Crystal later joked Badu was hiding a stolen Oscar under her hat).

Crystal's return to hosting, after a one-year absence, was ho-hum at best. He scored laughs by invoking big names (Stephen King, George W. Bush, Halle Berry, etc.) and by aptly describing the stage floor as borrowed from the set of "Soul Train." But he also tried to carry on a private conversation with Jack Nicholson, whose responses couldn't be heard. Whoopi Goldberg was crude last year, but she kept the evening lively.

And now, a few awards for the Academy Awards:

JOAN RIVERS AWARD FOR TASTELESS COMMENTARY: Goes to Rivers, of course, who said she had hot water prepared for the very pregnant Annette Bening. Then Rivers' added, "I just hope for Annette's sake they don't seat her near the cast of 'The Cider House Rules,'" a film about abortion.

Rivers also mentioned her "pendulous breasts" and the placenta that accompanied the birth of her daughter and co-host, Melissa.

WORST IDEA APPROPRIATED FROM LOCAL NEWS: Why did they show announcer Peter Coyote in some sort of satellite center? We haven't seen announcers in recent years, why bother now?

BEST REMINDER OF LAST YEAR'S OSCAR SHOW: Billy Crystal described his chores as host: "If Roberto Benigni gets out of hand, I've got the stun gun."

BEST PRODUCTION NUMBER: Robin Williams' rousing rendition of "Blame Canada" from the "South Park" movie got the blood flowing in a broadcast short on excitement. Turns out the song wasn't all that controversial (just one word needed to be bleeped, and Williams turned away from the audience when it came time to sing that word) but it looked great. The set and costumes were live-action re-creations of the animated background characters in the film.

CREEPIEST MOMENT: Angelina Jolie, who revels in her own freakiness, thanked her brother, but in a way that was, well, a little fonder than one expects from a sibling. "I'm so in love with my brother right now," she said. "He just held me and said that he loved me... I have nothing without you. You are the strongest, most amazing man I've ever known." Okaaaaay.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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