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Oscar presenters kept secret for ratings

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Kai Ryssdal: Hollywood and the movie industry are nothing if not sensitive to the needs of the publicity machine. That machine really gets fired up when it smells weakness, which it does in the case of the Academy Awards. Last year the Oscars broadcast drew a record low 32 million viewers. So with just five days left until the 2009 ceremony, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and ABC, which will broadcast the awards, have come up with a plan. It’s a variation of the old show biz adage: always leave ’em wanting more. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: This year Joan Rivers will have less opportunity for exchanges like this:

JOAN RIVERS: I am standing here with Naomi Watts who said — what did you just say, ‘You crucify me?’

NAOMI WATTS: Yeah, she crucified me last year, so I’m terrified.

JOAN RIVERS: And, well, you should be because look how you’ve pulled yourself together this year, and I like to think it’s me.

The Academy has asked some of the awards’ presenters to stay off the red carpet. The idea is to leave some surprises for the main event. But Marisa Guthrie of Broadcasting and Cable says the Academy risks offending the fashion industry by pulling the red carpet from under some actresses.

MARISA GUTHRIE: I mean they’re not gonna stand up at the podium if they get an award or present an award and say who designed their dress. I mean that information comes on the red carpet.

She says designers will miss that publicity. But Jane Ubell-Meyer isn’t so sure. Her company makes celebrity gift bags for events including the Oscars. She says delaying the first glimpse of certain celebrities and their gowns could be a boon for designers.

JANE UBELL-MEYER: Now there’ll be a spotlight on those that were not on the red carpet and you’ll see it in the magazines as ‘here’s the big reveal.’

She says all the print publicity will live on for months as people leaf through People and In Style in doctors’ offices. Marisa Guthrie says if the idea is to boost ratings by hiding some celebrities till the ceremony, it’s unlikely to work.

GUTHRIE: I mean every couple years there’s some sort of musty attempt to get people to tune in. And it’s just a bloated telecast. People know it is.

She says one thing that would get millions more viewers to watch would be a year full of blockbuster Oscar-nominated movies.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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