Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Jimmy Kimmel – Variety

‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ executive producer Molly McNearney and Walt Disney TV alternative head Rob Mills share behind-the-scenes scoop on how this year’s Oscar telecast went down

When he was hoisted into the Dolby Theater rafters five minutes before the Oscars were due to begin, Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue was still not locked down. It couldn’t be: Several of his gags would involve pop superstar Rihanna – but it all depended on whether she’d be in her seat.

“We had two versions of the monologue,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” executive producer (and Kimmel’s wife) Molly McNearney told Variety Monday afternoon. “One if Rihanna was in her seat, one if she wasn’t in her seat. One if Rihanna had her baby on her lap, which she wanted. And one if her baby wasn’t on her lap. A lot of our jokes were kind of at the mercy of people sitting in their seats.”

Kimmel opened the Oscars by parachuting onto the stage. “When they pulled Jimmy up in that harness into the open, we’re yelling at him, ‘Rihanna’s not in her seat! We’re going to adjust the prompter!'” McNearney said.

Here’s how the fast-paced nature goes about preparing for a live awards event. In the case of the Oscars, a lot went down in the final days, forcing some last-minute changes. Kimmel, for example, had planned to spend a good portion of his Oscar monologue riffing on how Tom Cruise had helped save the movies thanks to “Top Gun Maverick.” But when Cruise decided to bow out of this year’s event, most of those gags ended up on the cutting room floor.

“Jimmy loves Tom. Tom had just been on the show the week before,” McNearney said. “And they talked about seeing each other, and Jimmy was excited to tell him that we got real Navy pilots to do the flyover on top of the Oscars. Jimmy was really disappointed that he didn’t come.”

Insiders had suggested that Cruise pulled out because he had caught wind that Judd Apatow – who had made a series of brutal jokes at Cruise’s expense at the DGA Awards – was helping with Kimmel’s monologue. But that wasn’t actually the case, and McNearney hopes that’s not why Cruise didn’t come.

“Jimmy tends to send his monologue to a group of people he trusts, comedy writers and comedians,” McNearney said. “They don’t help with the monologue. They just tell him that joke works, that joke doesn’t work. No, Judd didn’t write or do anything for the monologue.”

Would the “L. Ron Hubba Hubba” joke have been used if Cruise was in space?” None. We had about a three minute segment of the monologue dedicated to Tom Cruise honoring him and his role in reviving the film industry. We were so disappointed when we found out a few days before the Oscars that he wouldn’t be there. Jimmy loves him and really wanted to celebrate him.”

Kimmel has earned strong positive marks for this year’s monologue, and it helped set the stage for what was a celebratory, emotional evening. And as McNearney noted, it helped that there were several popular movies in the mix this year, including “Top Gun Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

“You have to cut jokes on film that you don’t think the home audience has seen,” she said. “We had a lot more jokes about ‘Tár’, we had some about ‘To Leslie’, we had jokes about all the movies, but it’s a real balance between making jokes about what the room has seen and what the home audience has seen. . Fortunately, we had a ‘Top Gun’/’Avatar’ year with the blockbusters. It’s really hard because jokes that would do really well with industry people, people at home don’t know what you’re talking about. You have to trying to please both audiences at the same time, which is definitely a balancing act.”

One thing Kimmel decided to do when he took the gig was not to focus on big pre-taped packages or flashy stunts. “We’ve put a lot of time and energy into these big produced pieces, whether they’re live, like we did with the biopic break-in or the Hollywood tour bus that surprised people and brought them in. We’ve also done that. bigger pre-taped stuff , like we’ve done with Matt Damon. We found that it’s a lot of work and not a lot of payoff. So we decided to stick with some simplicity, jokes, and focus on the people in the room.

“I think it went well, but it was risky for us,” she added. “Because we tend to lean on these bigger produced pieces. But we just broke it down to the jokes. And we wrote, I think, 17 rounds of jokes. I mean, we have stacks and stacks of jokes that never will be seen.”

Here’s a few more behind-the-scenes tidbits about this year’s Oscar telecast, via McNearney and Rob Mills, Walt Disney TV exec VP of unscripted and alternative entertainment:

Rihanna backstage at the 95th Academy Awards.

Jimmy Kimmel checked and double checked how to pronounce Rihanna’s name. Viewers used to hearing “Rihanna” with a soft “a” were confused when Kimmel said her name with an “anna,” which rhymes with “banana.” But it turns out that many of us have been pronouncing it wrong (and there are plenty of videos online explaining this).

“Jimmy is obsessed with pronouncing people’s names correctly,” McNearney said. “There’s a guy on the show whose job it is to find the pronunciation. We always find video of the person saying their own name on camera. And that’s the way you pronounce Rihanna. There’s a whole interview with her about that. Jimmy said, ‘I’ll call her whatever name she calls herself.’ And that’s how she says it in Barbados. It felt funny to people. Now America knows how to pronounce her name even if they don’t want to. They’ll just assume Jimmy is fucked, but no, he didn’t!

Pedro Pascal at the Oscars

Michael B. Jordan, Pedro Pascal, Michelle Yeoh, Steven Spielberg and Andrew Garfield were informed moments before air that they would be assigned as part of Kimmel’s “security team.” “I went up to Michelle, Michael, Pedro, Andrew, Steven Spielberg and we told them minutes before the show started, ‘you want to be on camera, Jimmy wants to refer to you as part of his security team. If you could just show a kind of physical support or punch him,” McNearney said. “They were all game and they were very supportive.” Garfield was asked if he wanted to do a Spider-Man web sling, but “he made his own choice. Which I think was even better,” she added.

Elizabeth Banks and Cocaine Bear at the Oscars

There was someone inside that Cocaine Bear suit that you might recognize — but Kimmel is saving that reveal for his show. “Elizabeth Banks wrote it all,” McNearney said of it. “She’s amazing. She has perfect comedic timing.”

Lady Gaga at the Oscars
Getty Images

Lady Gaga was finally officially confirmed to perform on Friday. “Thursday afternoon we started hearing the rumbling,” Mills said. “And then she rehearsed on Friday with the other nominated musical performers… There wasn’t much of a Gaga saga as it seemed. She’s in the middle of shooting a very high-profile movie right now (the next ‘Joker ‘).So it’s kind of hard to just drop everything and come to the Oscars, especially when you’re an icon like Lady Gaga. Sometimes you assume that people are going to show up and perform. And I think we did. Then we made peace with the fact that it’s probably not going to go according to plan. The irony though is that she didn’t have much time to think about it and committed a day or two before the show, otherwise I don’t know if she would have done something as stripped down as that. It was really memorable.”

Kimmel and his writers decided not to go any harder with lame jokes because they felt it was Chris Rock’s story to tell. “We didn’t want to make this year about last year,” McNearney said. “I can’t tell you how many Will Smith jokes we had that we got away with. We think only the best for that room made it. There were definitely some that went harder, but we thought not that it was our place to do that it should be chris rock not us.

“But we really liked the idea of ​​making fun of the reaction to it last year,” she added. “I think we’re all still a little shocked at how it went and how, after seeing that violence, everyone had to sit through an acceptance speech.”

The Oscars have actually been produced three times. “We do a dress rehearsal Saturday night and then a full dress rehearsal Sunday morning at 10,” McNearney said. “We watched that whole show three times, and yet it didn’t feel old to us the third time. It was a testament to the way (Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner) produced it. It went a lot faster than I thought.”

Malala Yousafzai, Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain didn’t know they would be featured in the broadcast. “Malala was an excellent sport,” McNearney said. “We ran into her at the Vanity Fair party. She couldn’t have been nicer, more gracious. She was worried, ‘I hope my answer was okay.’ Well, we thought her answer was great.”

Pedro Pascal’s appearance as a presenter was not timed to coincide with the season finale of HBO’s “The Last of Us”. But the timing of that hit series’ finale worried ABC: “We had two things that concerned me last night,” Mills said. “One was summer time, which is usually longer at night. Ratings drop on the first night of daylight saving time. And then ‘The Last of Us’ was interesting. It felt like HBO saying ‘We’re not afraid of the Oscars.’ Our ratings have increased. I think we’ve proven that the Oscars are still the defining event in entertainment television during the season. And who knows, maybe next year they can drop it early or wait a week.”

Jimmy Kimmel and the “RRR” Dancers (ABC)

Kimmel is now the frontrunner to host the Oscars again next year. “There are whispers about it,” McNearney said. “We want to go on holiday first and then come back. Jimmy has had such positive feedback from the network and from the academy and from Billy Crystal who texted him. He is able to do it as long as he wants. I just don’t know if we have enough electrolytes and coffee.

“It’s grueling, hard work,” McNearney said. “Jimmy fixates like you wouldn’t believe every single joke, at every moment. Rounds and rounds and rounds of jokes, rewriting that monologue multiple times, he has multiple stress dreams. He wakes up in the middle of the night thinking that the prompter went off.”

Oh, and by the way, this year the teleprompter actually went out. Kimmel had to ad-lib when he introduced the editing award. “I knew because he went completely off script,” McNearney said. “He came out and talked about the importance of editing every time you read a text from your dad. I was like, what’s going on? Within three seconds, one of our writers said the prompt was out. I could just look at his face. And he came back, he said, ‘I just did all that without prompting!’

Mills knows that viewers who tuned in to live mayhem like last year’s slap may have been disappointed. “I’m sorry there really wasn’t anything crazy,” he said. “All the envelopes were correct, nobody beat anybody, there wasn’t a terribly bad dance number. We’ve come so far from Rob Lowe and Snow White to ‘Naatu Naatu.’ There really was nothing but good things.”

McNearney said she went into this year’s Academy Awards nervous about the fact that returning eight awards and performances from all five nominated songs could slow down the show.

“I thought, ‘oh, no, we’re going to have a host tied to the longest, lowest-rated Oscars in history,'” she said. “And I was so pleasantly surprised by how much heart there was in the show. From the moment Jimmy hit the stage, the audience was so incredibly warm and welcoming and loving… The audience for me made the show. The speakers were so beautiful. I cried for people. I had no idea who they were, but I’m crying. The unsung hero of that show was the people in the seats.”

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