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Tuned In: Don't look for Oscar to win an Emmy

Monday, March 25, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Plop. What a flop.

The glacially-paced 74th annual Academy Awards lumbered on and on and on after a self-impressed, overly serious start.

With lip-biting, somber-voiced insincerity, an unshaven Tom Cruise babbled about what movies meant to him as a child and tied the importance of filmmaking to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Come on. Once Fox gets a ratings win out of a crass, brainless show like "Celebrity Boxing," it's clear the country has moved on. Even most stars attending the Oscars left their American flag pins at home.

It was 15 minutes into the show before returning host Whoopi Goldberg descended on a trapeze "Moulin Rouge"-style, declaring, "I am the original 'Sexy Beast.' "

From there she bombed with jokes about Liza Minnelli's wedding, Oscar smear campaigns, the new Kodak Theatre and Anna Nicole Smith. She did get more genuine laughs when she introduced the Smith family -- Will, Jada and the unrelated Maggie Smith.

The usually groan-inducing introductions written for presenters were mostly funny this go-around. Cutest Hollywood couple Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe introduced the best makeup award.

"Without submitting to this daily ordeal, actors and actresses would look just like people in documentaries," Phillippe said.

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson introduced the award for best costume in a funny taped segment. Wilson dressed as Harry Potter, and Stiller was a "Lord of the Rings" dwarf.

"I look like a freaking ZZ Top troll boy!" Stiller mock-complained.

Backstage, announcers Glenn Close and Donald Sutherland worked what appeared to be the Oscar coat check booth. Nearby, Cirque du Soleil performers looked like wayward mimes who wandered into the wrong theater.

ABC's glitch-filled pre-show -- a mic didn't work, the hosts bumbled in their tosses to one another -- included an appearance by Oscar revelers in Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City, which were pointless -- doubly so because the remote hosts weren't identified.

Now in its fourth year, ABC has yet to find an effective formula for its pre-show. Despite better fashion shots than E! every year, one of the ABC hosts always looks like an idiot. With her inept transitions, Ananda Lewis was this year's sacrificial lamb.

Throughout the Oscars, Goldberg poked fun at nominees. For upstairs-downstairs British murder mystery "Gosford Park," she dressed as a maid.

And so it went and went and went, with far too many tributes -- documentaries, music, etc. -- that cluttered the proceedings and delayed even most B-level awards until well past 10 p.m.

"This show is going to be long, but not as long as it took to explain 'Mulholland Drive,'" Goldberg joked.

This column won't be, so let's get on with our awards:

THE MADONNA AWARD FOR BEST NEW ACCENT: While talking to Joan Rivers on the E! pre-show, American actor Elijah Wood displayed a new accent he picked up while making the "Lord of the Rings" films in New Zealand.

THE "AND SOON YOU'LL BE WORM FOOD" AWARD: Joan Rivers to Sidney Poitier: "You're beginning to get honorary awards, which tells us where we are in life."

BEST PRE-SHOW QUESTION: "Are you drunk?" Hugh Grant to Joan Rivers after she dropped something.

WORST PRE-SHOW ANSWER: Kate Winslet told ABC's "On the Red Carpet" host Chris Connelly she was comfortable, "However, I wouldn't want to attempt to pee at this point."

DUMBEST INTERRUPTION: At 8:55 p.m. Channel 4 put a crawl on screen that warned about a weather warning in effect until 7 p.m. Huh? Another alert said 12 p.m. -- 15 hours later. Did they mean 12 a.m.?

OUTSTANDING TAPED PIECE: The first was the best as average Americans, and a few famous ones, spoke about what they love about the movies.

"Life is unfair, and 'Ernest Goes to Jail' tells us that," said one film fan.

OLDIE BUT STILL GOODIE JOKE AWARD: Introducing the new award for best animated film, presenter Nathan Lane said, "Walt Disney would be smiling right now if he wasn't frozen solid."

AWARD FOR MOST UNKEMPT APPEARANCE: Cameron Diaz, brush. Brush, Cameron Diaz.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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