LAMag Picks the Best and Worst Oscar Hosts of All Time

Jimmy Kimmel has been named host of the 2023 Oscars—number 95 and counting. Here’s hoping his third time’s the charm

ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel will host the 2023 Oscars (on ABC) at the Dolby Theater on March 12, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Bill Kramer and President Janet Yang announced Monday. This will be the new Academy leadership’s first ceremony, but Kimmel’s third.

Kimmel, the former co-bro of Comedy Central’s The Man Show, also hosted in 2017 and 2018, being ABC’S own king of late night and a natural choice. While he garnered both good reviews and ratings for his relaxed and affable Oscars, he did get saddled with 2018’s Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway Best Picture snafu, considered the biggest Oscar flub of all time when the elder presenters called La La Land as Best Picture, only to rescind and give it to the correct winner: Moonlight.

Jimmy Kimmel and Guillermo del Toro attend the 90th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Matt Petit/A.M.P.A.S via Getty Images)

This year’s executive producers, Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirschner, will work with Kimmel, with the help of Kimmel’s wife, Molly McNearney, as fellow EP. McNearney has been the co-head writer of Jimmy Kimmel Live for some time, has written for the Emmys multiple times, and the Oscars when her husband hosted.

“Being invited to host the Oscars for a third time is either a great honor or a trap,” Kimmel said in a statement. “Either way, I am grateful to the Academy for asking me so quickly after everyone good said no.”

Kimmel has a rough road ahead, a considerable amount of pressure.

Last year’s Oscar ceremony was generally considered a disaster after Will Smith’s outrageous “slap heard round the world”: Academy officials did nothing to remove Smith after smacking presenter Chris Rock across the face—with the whip-fast Rock landing on his feet with spontaneous quips diffusing the situation as best he could after Smith’s jarring and violent outburst.

Even Will Smith has not succeeded in ruining the Academy Awards… Yet

That year’s ratings were no great shakes, either. However, they were up 60 percent from 2021’s pandemic Oscars, with no host—nor live audience—at 9.85 million viewers, the lowest rated of all time. The 2022 Academy Awards, with trio of female hosts Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall and Amy Schumer, was second to last, with just over 16 million bothering to tune in. To appreciate how far viewership has sunk, Kimmel’s last go-round in 2018 was 26 million, which was itself considered the lowest of all time because the Oscars not been seen by fewer than 30 million viewers in any previous year..

Nielsen only started tracking the ratings in the 1970s, but the the Oscars, of course, originated in 1929, handing the first trophy to Clara Bow’s silent U.S. Army Air Service propaganda love story, Wings. To give you an idea how much viewership of Hollywood’s biggest night has slid over time, 2008’s 32 million viewers (host: Jon Stewart) was the lowest at that time.

How much does the Oscar host have to do with the ratings? Not all that much, in the end. Prognosticators say it has more to do with the temper and popularity of the films of a particular year (the 1998 Titanic Oscars scored the show’s highest ratings ever at 55 million). However, we can discern who were the most—and least—popular hosts of all time. We considered the reviews, both by critics, water cooler chat and social media (when that started to apply), but concentrated on the last thirty years. One thing to be aware of: social media and online activity has clearly bitten into the Oscars’ audience. People under 18 are much less likely now to watch television.

Now, going deep into Oscar history, comedian/actor Bob Hope, generally considered the Oscar’s best all-time host, was its master of ceremonies a record nineteen times between 1940 to 1978, his last being the Oscar’s 50th anniversary. Hope’s droll flat-affect delivery earned him a gold medal for his services to the Academy during the 1966 awards, presented by Jack Lemmon and Academy president Arthur Freed.

Second only to Bob Hope is Billy Crystal, wildly popular for his opening number movie-themed song and dance routines based on the nominated films. Crystal hosted the Academy Award Ceremony nine times from 1990 to 2012, including four years in a row from 1990 to 1993. His most recent emcee duties followed the year after 2011’s double-host disaster with James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Who can forget the time Crystal took to the stage in 1992 sporting the asylum mask worn by the night’s Best Actor winner Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter) for 1991’s Silence of the Lambs (which took home seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress for Jody Foster, and Best Director for Jonathan Demme).

Tying for third place are four-time host Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres. Whoopi was known for exotic, often absurd, costume changes and as the first female and first African American to host the Oscars. Whoopi is one of only five people to have hosted the Oscars four times or more: Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, Johnny Carson and Jack Lemmon are the others. Weighing in at three times each: Steve Martin, Jerry Lewis and David Niven, who had the honor of following a streaker who ran across the stage in 1974 by delivering perhaps the most classic ad-lib in Oscar Night history:

“Well, ladies and gentleman, that, um, that was almost bound to happen,” he said. “But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life was by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”

In 2014, host Ellen DeGeneres’ second time was the charm following her 2007 effort, when the selfie she took with Julia Roberts, Meryl Street, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper became the tweet heard round the world—getting over three million retweets.

At number five, Steve Martin’s triple-stint—2001, 2003 and 2010 (with Alec Baldwin)—was witty and wise, proving once again that the comedian/movie or tv star hosts have the best personalities and often self-written jokes.

Honorable mention goes to Hugh Jackson, the song and dance starman, who in 2009, emulated Old Hollywood legends Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, as he elegantly channeled the bygone era without having to resort to weak jokes.

Now, for the worst—since we’re equal opportunity snarks, we won’t list them numerically. After all, it’s a toss up who ranked lowest among this motley crew.

James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011: the Academy chose them to appeal to a “younger demographic”—not taking into consideration that neither is known for comedy or singing and dancing. Hathaway tried to hold her own, but came off as overly enthusiastic and manic. Pulling the opposite, Franco essentially flat-lined, saying years later, “Anne Hathaway was so energetic, I think the Tasmanian Devil would look stoned standing next to Anne Hathaway.”

Franco’s never admitted if he himself was high, which all the reviewers suspected. His non-performance speaks for itself.

Seth MacFarlane in 2013 saw his weirdly crass jokes drop dead (including an opening song called “We Saw Your Boobs” and jokes about Rihanna’s savage beating at the hands of Chris Brown). His is considered by many the tackiest of all Oscar hosts.

David Letterman is loved for his sarcasm—but it didn’t play well together with the 1995 awards gala. His bizarre joke about introducing Oprah to Uma seemed to go on forever—and wasn’t funny to begin with (although the audition sketch for Chris Elliot’s then-upcoming epic Cabin Boy still has fans to this day).

The first host-less Oscars of 1989 are now remembered only for Rob Lowe dancing/flirting with a young woman playing Snow White, who tried to shake hands with members of the audience, with Michelle Pfeiffer cringing so much she would not offer hers. The previous year, a sex tape Lowe made with a 16-year-old Atlanta girl had been leaked and gone viral 80s-style. Double-cringe.

(Photo by Randy Leffingwell/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

And then there was the time in 1958 when someone had the bright idea of teaming Jack Lemmon, Rosalind Russell, Jimmy Stewart and Bob Hope with an animated Donald Duck. Even Hope couldn’t save this dud from the utter awkwardness of movie stars having to interact with Mr. Duck.

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