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Hey, Oscar fans: Do any of you have a strong emotional attachment to the Kodak Theatre, the home of the Academy Awards ceremony for the last decade? Because next year could be the last time the show is held there. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Academy is dropping hints that it could leave the Kodak for another venue after its lease runs out in 2013. Whether you think that’s a good or bad idea probably depends on whether you think that the Oscars ought to stay in a theater custom-built for the annual ceremony. As someone who has covered the Oscar show twice at that location, I find the Kodak has both pros and cons as a practical place to hold the larger-than-life yearly gala.
On the plus side, the venue was indeed built for the Oscars; in fact, Oscar lore is built into its very walls, inscribed on plaques as you enter and exit the auditorium. The very location is historic — right along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, next door to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and across the street from the Roosevelt Hotel, where the first Oscar ceremony was held more than 80 years ago. The space itself is small and intimate, which is good for the TV cameras.
Then again, maybe it’s too small. The theater seats about 3,330, which means that — once the nominees and VIPs are invited — about half of the 6,000 Academy membership still can’t get tickets. And there’s no backstage area to speak of; the “backstage” interviews you see sometimes after the show are actually conducted in conference rooms at the nearby Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. That means a long walk to and from the interviews for the winners, which in turn means less time for reporters to talk to them.
Also, for all the glamorous history of the neighborhood, the Oscars are still currently the only major awards ceremony that takes place in a shopping mall. The Kodak Theatre is nestled in the center of the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, and the Oscar night red carpet is the only one that winds past an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels and a Hot Topic.
In fact, it’s the ongoing negotiations with the mall owners, the CIM Group, that is at issue in the Academy’s recent announcement. THR’s story doesn’t mention any specific complaints the Academy has with the current location, only the awards group’s ability to flex its muscles and to bargain for a better deal as the option to exit the lease approaches.
“This is purely a business decision,” THR quotes a member of the Academy board of governors as saying. “The bottom line is we are going to look at other places and listen to all offers. We may ultimately decide to stay where we are if we can renegotiate a better lease. Don’t forget, things have happened there.”
According to the trade paper, that last sentence is a reference to Kodak’s financial problems as it adjusts to a world where digital photography is replacing celluloid. (At a time when Hollywood has all but abandoned actual film for pixels, there’s some irony in moviemakers continuing to celebrate their achievements in a theater whose name is synonymous with technology the movie industry has deemed obsolete.) The article suggests that Kodak may have difficulty continuing to pay $4 million a year for the naming rights to the theater. One reason that the Academy has leverage is that, if there’s no Oscar ceremony there, the naming rights will be worth a lot less to CIM.
Where else in the Los Angeles area might the Academy move the show? There’s always the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home to many an Oscar show before the Kodak years, though it seats even fewer people than the Kodak (about 2,500). The Shrine Auditorium, which has also hosted many Oscar ceremonies over the years, seats more than 6,000. And then there’s the Nokia Theater, not yet built when the Oscars moved into the Kodak. It seats 7,100. The Nokia already swiped the ‘American Idol’ finale from the Kodak, so there’s a precedent.
Wherever the show ends up in a couple years, the venue’s size and amenities may not matter much if the show’s general downward ratings trend continues. If nobody’s watching the Oscars, the naming rights to whatever theater they’re handed out in won’t be worth much.
[Photos: Getty Images; AFP/Getty Images]
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