The Oscar Producers Really Want to Remind You About That Early Start Time

The 2024 Academy Awards have two timing concerns. For one, the show is airing an hour earlier than its historic slot — kicking off at 7 p.m. ET and 4 p.m. on the West Coast. ABC’s March 10 live telecast also coincides with the “spring forward” of the first day of Daylight Savings, further confusing matters for viewers in the vast majority of the U.S..

So when telecast showrunner Raj Kapoor and fellow executive producers Molly McNearney and Katy Mullan hopped on Zoom earlier this week, they were happy to talk about everything from crisis plans to “in memoriam” pressure, that Barbie promo and the inherent foolishness of trying to engineer a viral moment. But they were also really keen to remind Oscar fans about that new time slot.

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OK, we’re just a few days out. Is any part of you a little worried that people still haven’t gotten the memo about the early start time?

MOLLY MCNEARNEY Yes, which is why this article is imperative. (Laughs.) Whoever’s reading this, tell your friends.

KATY MULLAN We’ve got to make sure no one’s late because there’s daylight savings and the show airing an hour earlier!

RAJ KAPOOR We do think ABC and the Academy have done a good job so far. And we think there are a lot of benefits to the earlier start time. But, yeah, we’re just hoping everybody gets the memo.

There’s so much pressure on these shows to produce a “viral moment.” The very nature of that means they can’t truly be engineered, and yet you’ve still got to try. What are those discussions like?

MCNEARNEY Everyone’s goal is to have something memorable in this show. But I agree with you. I don’t think it’s something that can be preplanned and crafted. Last year, some of the best moments came from the acceptance speeches — and we certainly can’t control those. This is Jimmy’s fourth Oscars. In the past, we have created big, preproduced, celebrity-heavy comedy bits — and we’re not doing that. We did it in the promo, of course, but we find that those feel a little labored. It’s a lot of work for very little payoff. I think that we shine more when Jimmy is more in the moment, spontaneous, commenting on what’s going on in the room. And we definitely are crafting a killer monologue. Katy, Raj and I have worked tirelessly on putting together great presenters along with Taryn Hurd, our talent producer. There’ll be some surprises. There’ll be some great performances. But trying to plan a viral moment is a dead end.

KAPOOR We can only plant the seeds and hope things will happen naturally and spontaneously. And if a moment gets a big reaction in the room, hopefully that will lead to those viral moments. We have some amazing cameos planned.

That Barbie promo was so well-received. Once you saw the finished product, was there any part of you that thought, “Should we hold this to be some sort of show intro?” It really hearkened back to those Billy Crystal intros from the ’90s.

MCNEARNEY Totally! When it came together so well, I had the same thought. A lot of us did think, like, “Oh, should we open the show with this?” But I think it’s better to use it to promote the show. I think it raised awareness of the time change. We got millions of eyeballs on that thing. It’s better that we get our 10-minute tight monologue, because we’ve got 23 awards to give out.

It seems almost impossible to pull off an awards show “in memoriam” segment without upsetting someone about an omission or limited screen time. There’s so much scrutiny. Can you talk to me about how you troubleshoot that part of the show?

MULLAN I have never worked with a larger group of people who care more about getting the elements of the show right. And the great thing about the Oscars having been done for this many years, and with the Academy being the size that it is, is that there’s a whole group of people dedicated to making sure that the right people are in — that everybody’s name is spelled correctly, that all of the pictures are correct. There’s just a huge amount of care and love and attention that goes into making sure that it absolutely does deliver, and that it’s done in a really reverential way. We’ve got an execution of it this year that will, hopefully, be really moving and do everybody justice.

There was all that talk about adding a crisis team to last year’s telecast, post-slap, and we just saw a demonstration disrupting some of the Independent Spirit Awards. How much can you tell me about the prep for potential interference?

KAPOOR There are a lot of plans in place and hundreds of people involved in those type of decisions. There’s a formal plan, but, in the end, there are a few people that will make key decisions in a very short amount of time if anything happens. There’s a lot of thought that goes into every single piece of this show. That’s why it is the Oscars. That’s why it’s a global show, because every nuance is actually thought about ahead of time.

For each of you, what gives you the most excitement — and the most anxiety — about pulling it all off on the big day?

KAPOOR I think our set and vision looks, because it’s looking really beautiful in the theater. We are just about to discover how it looks with every camera angle, because all our cameras start coming in tomorrow. But the actual design is very immersive — classic, yet modern. There’s all these beautiful touchstones that we’ve really put a lot of time and thought into, from how people are presented onstage and even how they walk offstage, and giving Hamish Hamilton, our director, all the tools that he wants to show people off in their best light. The presenters and the winners, when they do their acceptance speeches, they’ll also be much closer to the rest of the audience this year. Hopefully that’s going to be evident onscreen. I’m probably just the most anxious that we deliver a show that comes in fairly close to time and feels really good. We don’t want anybody looking at the clock.

MCNEARNEY I’m really excited to celebrate with the people who’ve put on the show. The thing that gives me anxiety, as someone who’s married to the host, is that you always get nervous if a joke doesn’t go well. There’s always anxiety anytime someone’s out there and vulnerable in a time when everyone has an opinion on everything. That’s always a little daunting to me. Thankfully, it’s not to Jimmy.

MULLAN I had an anxiety dream the other night that I was on the back of a moped that Ryan Gosling was driving, and we couldn’t find the Dolby Theatre. (Laughs.) Live TV is so complicated! And it is kind of thankless, because you have to make it look completely effortless, even though, behind the scenes, everybody is sweating bullets about how many times it could possibly go wrong.

I love that your idea of a nightmare is being on a moped with Ryan Gosling.

MULLAN It started off well, and then I realized that we were going to be late for the show!

Raj, you mentioned the pressure to come in on time. What are the actual ramifications of not coming in on time — other than just annoying people? And when the Emmys came in exactly on time, were you all thinking, “Oh, great …”

KAPOOR Yeah, thanks a lot, Jesse Collins! (Laughs.) That doesn’t happen very often. We want to give people the opportunity to speak, but we also want to control a little bit of that, too. It’s still got to feel great for everybody at home. Ultimately, it’s three and a half hours of live television and we can only control so many things. We can’t really talk about the ramifications. We just feel the pressure to be really great partners with the Academy and ABC and produce the show that they would like to deliver. And the message is an on-time show.

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