Interview: Oscars writers Bruce Vilanch, Jenny Bicks

Hollywood's favorite evening--the Academy Awards--is just around the corner, and this year producers are going to try something different. Instead of the standard host telling jokes and presenters reading off winners, the ceremony is getting a major overhaul. We talked with the show's writers, famed comedy writer Bruce Vilanch and former Men in Trees showrunner Jenny Bicks, to get an idea of what will go down this Sunday. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, I’m sick of award shows. You know, they’re all the same, blah, blah, blah. Why should I watch the 81st Oscars? How will this year be different?

Jenny Bicks: Oh, I think this is the show for you then.

Bruce Vilanch: You know why? Because you’ll love this.

Jenny Bicks: Yeah, it’s not going to be the same old, same old.

Bruce Vilanch: There’s no standup comic coming out and doing ten minutes of Bush jokes. There’s Hugh Jackman, dancing Wolverine, and he’s going to do a lot of musical stuff, so that right away is going to be different. And we’ll have funny people later on doing stuff as the evening goes along, but we’re also telling a story this time. There’s a narrative thread that keeps the awards in a certain order. And that’s going to make them go by much faster—the ones that people traditionally don’t care about, are going to be more interesting than usual.

Jenny Bicks: It’s really going to fill out the show.

Bruce Vilanch: Yeah, it’s going to fill out the show. I mean, we’re in the middle of rehearsing it, and if it all falls together the way we expect, it’s going to be quite a show. And did Hugh, being announced as the host, really influence that decision?

Bruce Vilanch: Oh, absolutely. Well, the new producers, Bill Condon and Larry Mark, wanted it to be different. And they wanted it to be more of a show and less of a hit parade of people following a standup comic. They wanted to have a fresh vision. So they went looking for somebody who would be a different kind of host, and once Hugh agreed to do it, then the other pieces could fall into place. Often, the Oscars are topical. Are you going to broach the subject of the recession or is this going to be total escapist fare?

Bruce Vilanch: No, we’re going to nod in that direction. I mean, it’ll all be incorporated. You can only do so many topical things, [so I said] I want Hugh to come out and say, “I’m sorry I’m late, but I had an argument in the car with Rihanna.” But, you know, that probably won’t happen. But, it’ll be enough. I think that, and I think Jenny would agree, people really want razzle dazzle glamour, it’s fun.

Jenny Bicks: Yeah, people want a little escapism. You know, I don’t want to be told for 3 hours and 8 minutes that things are going down the tubes.

Bruce Vilanch: And Larry and Bill and I all kind of grew up at the same time, and we grew up watching the Oscar show when it was hosted by people like Jerry Lewis, who is, ironically enough, getting an award. But, it was much more of a party. Partially that was because you didn’t see movie stars on TV in those days as much as you do now. So, we’re trying to get it back to that and build things in that will bring the movie stars who are in the audience more into play than before, and give it more of a party atmosphere. How did you two get involved? Bruce, I know you’ve done this for a while, right?

Bruce Vilanch: I have. I’ve been around. I’ve been around for 20 years. And Jenny is brand new.

Jenny Bicks: And I’m just a young little sassy puppy. No, I’m not. I was asked by Larry Mark to join in because I had worked on a project or two with him, and I said of course I would! Who’s not going to jump at that? Jenny, how’s that different from running your own show? I mean, it must be vastly different.

Jenny Bicks: Oh, it’s so vastly different. I mean, first of all, it’s nice not to be in charge. And I just take orders and get to go off and write. We didn’t do our shows live, thankfully. And this is live. So, there is something really fun about that too. Let’s go over some of the Oscar’s past. Do you guys have any favorite Oscar moments?

Bruce Vilanch: Ah, millions, but I guess my favorite is when Jack Palance dropped down and did one-armed push ups, a 71-year-old man carrying on. And we got to throw out the script--Billy Crystal was hosting and we got to make jokes about Jack. Of course, Jack was in Billy’s movie City Slickers, which is what he won for. So, we had a reason that we could make all these jokes. And I like that, I like the throwing out the scripts and kind of flying by the seat of the pants.

Jenny Bicks: I like that Roberto Benigni moment.

Bruce Vilanch: Roberto Benigni when he climbed across the seats, and yeah.

Jenny Bicks: This is the stuff you don’t expect.

Bruce Vilanch: I know, exactly. Well, I love when winners come up and surprise you with things like that, when they behave outlandishly. Why not? I mean, they won the Oscar, they should be as exuberant and crazy as they possibly can be. What’s going to win Best Picture? And do you have any underdog picks?

Bruce Vilanch: Ah. Well, probably I think Slumdog Millionaire will win, because it’s about underdogs. You know, it’s about Rocky goes to Mumbai, he’s been outsourced! He’s now in India. So, I have a feeling that will win. As far as underdogs, gee, I don’t know.

Jenny Bicks: I don’t know. I mean, I guess people would have said Mickey Rourke was the underdog a while ago, except now he’s the frontrunner. But he’s the underdog in terms of kind of where he’s come from.

Bruce Vilanch: Our big fear is that Richard Jenkins (nominated for best actor for The Visitor) and Melissa Leo (nominated for best actress for Frozen River) will show up and security won’t let them in. They just won’t recognize them. “No one saw your picture!” Thanks for talking to us!

The 81st Oscars airs Sunday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on ABC.

Comments (7)
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I never watch the show as it's on in the middle of the night here. I just find out the winners on the news the next day so I miss all this!
I loved the way the oscars changed it up. I found myself wondering why they never handed out the acting awards that way before. I liked it so much I just wish there was a clip of the nominated actors performances. Maybe next year they can do both and cut out some of the other crap they don't need or extend the show. I am a hardcore film fan and film maker myself so I don't care how long the show goes. Also I found it nice that they didn't make a stupid joke about how long it was going on.
It has definatly been differant so far...Exelent to say the least!
I can't wait!
I usually try to watch the show out of habit.
I'm not watching the Oscars opening, I only care about watching the awards for best supporting actress, best Actor and Best Film.
Someone please let me know if the Oscar's were worth watching.

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