Whoopi, Sting and circus - All part of Oscar show

Thursday, March 21, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- The theater is new and so is the heightened security, but there will be nostalgic Hollywood touches as well at Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony.

Laura Ziskin, the show's producer, hopes that old-time glamour combined with performers including Sting, Paul McCartney and Cirque du Soleil will hold viewers after last year's lowest-rated Oscars.

She knows, however, that it takes more to ensure a memorable evening at the $94 million Kodak Theatre, the lavish new home for the Oscars.

"The show is made or broken by the winners and what they say or do. I can do everything right and if they're not interesting or come with their laundry list of 'thank yous,' then the show will be boring," Ziskin said. "If they have something to say and are emotional then the show will be great no matter what I do."

In reality, Ziskin is working to ensure everyone, overwrought winners included, does his part for a lively evening. At the annual nominees' luncheon she handed out a helpful prop -- silver egg timers set for 45 seconds, the recommended speech length.

Ziskin may be fighting a trend: the ceremony suffered its lowest ratings ever last year with an average 42.9 million viewers, down 7 percent from 2000. To spark interest, Ziskin said she's ensuring the show is "jampacked with ... something for everyone. I won't say for sure, but we're on the road to pulling off a couple of big surprises."

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