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Jon Stewart Won’t Cross Oscar Picket Line
By DON KAPLAN
THE Oscar people are talking tough – but most people in Hollywood and the TV business believe the Oscars are dead this year.
ABC was busy last week telling advertisers that the show will go on – despite the threat of Writers Guild picket lines keeping all the stars away.
Gil Cates, the movie director who is charge of the Oscar show again this year, told a group of high-level Hollywood publicity people he is working on alternatives – a "Plan B," as Variety called it.
But in truth, the Oscars are turning into a virtual replay of this year's sad Golden Globes telecast, according to Hollywood insiders.
"The Oscars may be suffering from a false sense of security and arrogance," says Tom O'Neil, editor of the awards-show Web site, theenvelope.com.
Nominations for the awards are set to be announced early tomorrow – but a pall is already hanging over the Feb. 5 telecast.
At this point, the Oscars does not even have a host.
Jon Stewart, who agreed last year to return for his second stint as host, has told the Motion Picture Academy that he won't cross the picket line, according to sources close to the "Daily Show" anchor. (As is his custom, Stewart's spokesman, Matt Labov, did not return phone calls.)
"During the last writers strike, [movie stars] did cross the picket line," says O'Neil, "but the difference between then and now is there weren't all of these aggressive TV news channels and bloggers watching and ready to express outrage."
"We are moving forward with our plans to do the show at the Kodak Theater on Feb. 24 with 3,300 people in the audience and many millions watching on TV," a rep for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says.
That was pretty much what the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and NBC said early last month, until just two days before the Golden Globes awards show.
In the final few hours, the Globes was turned into a 30-minute press conference with less than one-third of last year's audience watching.
There are five weeks until the Oscars – and the writers union and the producers are set to meet again informally next week for the first time since the first week of December.
It is possible the dispute over revenues from the Internet play of TV shows and movies could be resolved by Oscar night.
But the possibility of an Oscar telecast – traditionally the second-most watched TV event of the year following the Super Bowl (thought the annual finale of "American Idol" has nosed it out in recent years) – going on if the strike is still on appears remote, Hollywood insiders said over the weekend.
"It will never happen and they are going to play it out in the press to try and gain sympathy from the viewing public," says one high-ranking ad exec, who did not want to be named because of his close connections to the show.
"This will be no different than the Globes" the exec said in an email. "I can't believe that actors will cross any picket line to participate."
"ABC keeps telling us the show will go on," says another Madison Avenue executive whose clients include Oscar advertisers. "But if things keep up the way they are right now, I just don't see how."
Some Hollywood types see the reluctance of Cates to share specifics about "Plan B" as strong proof that there really is no alternative to stars walking the red carpet.
There have been whispers of an un-televised Oscar show or using pre-taped video segments that would permit Screen Actors Guild members to skirt the picket lines.
"On one hand they have been suggesting they have a secret plan and – on the other hand – virtually admitting that they don't when Gil Cates says 'we're playing it by ear' ," says O'Neil.