The most notable by far is the addition of what they're calling Best Popular Film. And like pretty much everyone else I read, I agree that it's mind-numbingly idiotic. Not because it's a change and How Dare You Change the Oscars (it's the Oscars, for goodness sake, it's open for change), but because they're panderingly foolish and diminish the whole point of the show. To be clear, I've written lengthy articles about how the Tony Awards should change their broadcast and why. (The short, core answer to the latter is that these are TV shows, so they should make them good TV shows.) So, I'm absolutely fine with changing awards shows.
My friend Ken Levine, a multiple-Emmy-winner who's also written several features, has a a spot-on rant about what's wrong about this Best Popular Film category, which you can read here.
Part of the challenge with everyone's complaint about this rule (including my own) is that the Motion Picture Academy hasn't actually announced yet how it will work. But then, that should give you a hint about the problem with it. I suspect that the Academy hasn't announced how it will work because it doesn't have a clue how it will work. Most probably because it won't work. Can a film be eligible for Best Popular Film and Best Picture? Will this undercut the value of Best Picture by suggesting that if it's not popular, it's just a froo-froo artsy-fartsy film no one should care about except the effete snobs? Does it demean the Best Popular Film nominees by saying they're perhaps a bit dumb and not good enough to be a Best Picture? And what qualifies for a "Popular Film"? And will you now get people whining (by the way, the answer to this is "Yes," regardless how the sentence finishes...) that some movie won Best Popular Film when another movie was clearly more popular? And why only Best "Popular" Film ? Why not an award for Best Comedy Film? And Best Action Film? And, hey, why not Best Un-Popular Film? (since after all, most movies that don't do well at the box office, no matter how brilliantly made rarely get Oscar nominations -- because people didn't see them, not just the public but Oscar voters,!) And for that matter, why not Best Popular Actor in a Popular Film? Because they generally get overlooked, too. Most especially Best Comic Actor in a Comedy Film? And...and...and...well, fill in the blank with your own "ands", including at the top, and why have the category at all???!
The whole point of the Oscars is excellence. After all, it's given by the Industry itself, by the people who actually make the movies. There are plenty other awards shows that honor popularity. And there's the box-office, too. We can see pretty easily which movies made the most money and therefore was the most popular. (That doesn't inherently mean such films will be The Best, but it certainly focuses the list.) The Oscars are about craft. That might bother some people -- or perhaps many people -- who think the concept of quality is too high-brow and elitist. But it's not, of course, the concept of quality is based on doing your best. We don't demean an Olympic Gold Medal-winner because he or she was a better runner than all others. No, the two concepts are not the same, but the foundation is. You don't get a bonus Gold Medal for finishing seventh but you have the most TV commercial endorsements. There are no participation trophies when you get past the third grade. If the U.S. Movie Award-a-ganza show wants to honor The Most Popular, swell. But these are the Oscars. Yes, it's just about honoring movies, not medical breakthroughs, but it's what separates them from the other shows, there's a point to them, some heft,)
And to be clear, this change has nothing to do with excellence or craft. It's to draw a larger TV audience and perhaps even assuage egos. And it's idiotic.
Which leads us to the other changes, designed to streamline the TV broadcast. (Here, I only partly agree with what Ken Levine wrote in his aforementioned article. He makes some good points, though overall I don't have an issue with trying to make a TV show a better TV show.) I'm actually okay with the Oscars -- or any awards show) -- doing little sketches and montages. It's a TV show, after all. The problem is when you do silly, pointless, interminable "bits" that might at best be after-thoughts on a late-night TV talk show ("Hey, let's get volunteers and go down the block to surprise tourists with candy!!") and not something organic to the broadcast. When you do the former, they're a waste of space. When you do the latter, they enhance the show.
The streamlining changes are being made to keep the show at three hours and not spill over interminably. In doing so, they will now present some of the awards during commercial breaks, and then edit them to show the winner's speech later in the broadcast. (Which awards that will be should be a fun debate in the Academy.)
I understand why some are bothered by this. Hey, if I was nominated, and my category was one of those, I'd be bothered. But this isn't about five people being bothered. It's about hundreds of millions of people watching on TV being bored. They're no eliminating the award, after all. If you get an Oscar nomination -- let alone win -- you have the nomination, and have it for all time. It forever will be the first line in your biography whenever anyone writes about you, whether it was on TV or not. When you're up for your next job, the people hiring will know you were nominated for an Oscar -- and maybe even won. Moreover, they already give a lot of Oscars that aren't shown on TV -- in fact, they're given on a complete separate night, the Technical Achievement Awards, which get very short shrift on the Oscar broadcast. But they still count as Oscars. And Oscar nominations. So, there's LONG precedence with this, and even more drastically, it's not a Huge Deal. Though it is a deal. The thing is, it all depends on how it's handled. (In the new, edited version, for instance, they could show and identify all the nominees on-screen in boxes while the winner is being announced, and then quick-cut to the winner on stage, and give 30 seconds of the person's speech.) It certainly can absolutely be handled poorly...but it doesn't have to be.
The Tony Awards, after all, do something sort of like this already for several awards (though given at an earlier ceremony), and sometimes some of the awards are significant ones. They've worked on getting it right over the past few years. The first year they didn't do a great job with it, but with some trial-and-error, it worked fairly nicely this past season. It still has a ways to go, but it can be done well. And the Oscars can do it well, too. If they don't -- that's the problem. Not that they're trimming the full live-presentation of a few awards that the viewing audience doesn't care about.
And in the end, again, it's a TV show. The point of the Oscar telecast is to make a good TV show. If you want to present all the awards and in full -- great! Just don't accept the millions of dollars for rights fee and put a TV camera in the room.
By the way, that said, I also don't have any qualms with an Oscar broadcast going long. Such length can be boring -- or add heft and substance. Gandhi was long -- it also won Best Picture. (And was pretty popular, too!) One From the Heart wasn't all very long at all -- and it was mind-numbing. In the end, everything should be done to make the Oscars a sharp, fluid, thoughtful, entertaining TV broadcast...that honors excellence and craft.
That's a tall order and a tough challenge. But you only have to do it once a year. And, c'mon, you're starting from a foundation of honoring movies. So, you've got a big leg up on broadcasting the gala for Insurance Salesmen of the Year.