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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 08:23 GMT
Meeting the Oscar night producer
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Gil Cates
Gil Cates won an Emmy award for production of a previous Oscar show

Gil Cates has produced more Oscars shows than any other person. He is returning to mastermind Sunday's event for a 13th time.

"There's nothing like a live television show," he says.

"The fact that this is essentially a news programme - it's three-and-a-half hours of people watching the show to find out who gets these awards - is very satisfying."

While the format remains essentially the same, each show takes on a character of its own.

There have been occasions when the mood was decidedly sombre - the most recent being when America and its allies were at war with Iraq.

"Each Oscars show really has a different flavour and a different feeling to it - depending on the films that have been nominated and depending on what's going on in the world at the time," says Mr Cates.

We try to get a great host, we try to have wonderful presenters on the show, we try to do musical numbers that will entice and enthrall
Gil Cates

"This is a very, very interesting year. It's a special year with special films."

Low profile

Films like Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck and Crash may well be special, but relatively few people have seen them. In box office terms, they are not in the same league as some of the Oscars better-known champions.

Mr Cates is well aware that the list of low profile nominees is likely to have an impact on the viewing audience for the Oscars.

"Obviously, when we have a film like Titanic, which many people saw two and three times - we had a very large rating. One year the English Patient was one of the nominees and the audience faltered," he says.

The producer's job is to build a show that appeals to a wide cross-section of the potential audience.

"We try to get a great host, we try to have wonderful presenters on the show, we try to do musical numbers that will entice and enthrall and in general we try to book the show in a way that will encourage the largest number of people possible to watch it."

Jon Stewart, this year's host, is less well known than his predecessors. But as the presenter of The Daily Show, a hugely successful comedy show on cable TV, he has a cult following.

Jon Stewart
US comedian Jon Stewart will host this year's ceremony

"Jon Stewart is a super host for us this year because he's very politically adept - he's culturally aware, he's a very smart man. We need someone who is not only a stand-up comic who can really work a room and deal with the unexpected."

But, according to Mr Cates, the onus is on everyone involved in the show to make it a success. He has a particular dislike of presenters that take to the stage and make unscripted comments.

"For a presenter to go out and say something that was not predetermined shows a substantial lack of faith and is a terrible thing to do.

"I would respond very hostilely to that. However a nominee who wins an Academy Award - that's his or her 30 or 40 seconds in the sun.

"I tell them that I would hope that they would talk about what the Oscar means to them or something that's significant in terms of their lives, but if they elect to say something political it's a free country and they're entitled to do it."

Magic

The show will also feature what the producer describes as an "educational component". The Academy Awards have always attempted to highlight some of the lesser-known facts about film-making.

"In the show this year we have a two sentence explanation of what sound effects editing is, and I would wager that 95% of the audience has no clue what sound effects editing is," says Mr Cates.

"There's a big kick that I get out of having stuff on the show that makes people say, 'wow, I didn't know that before'."

At the end of a long Hollywood 'awards season', the Oscars are seen as the grand finale, the jewel in the crown.

But after weeks of self-congratulatory ceremonies there is a sense that they rather steal the thunder of the Academy Awards.

"I think there are too many awards shows," says Mr Cates.

But he adds: "It's obviously self-serving of me to say that but I think it's a free country and people can give awards to their hearts' content. The truth of the matter is the Oscars have been with us for 78 years.

"Your grandfather and great-grandmother probably watched the Oscars in black-and-white or listened to them on the radio - they are in inescapable part of the magic of film."


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