As Emma Stone strode out of the Samuel Goldwyn Theater she was still chuckling, just moments after helping Oscar ceremony host – and newly minted nominee – Seth MacFarlane mine a few laughs out of the normally aloof Academy Awards nominations. "It was a great time, yeah – it was really fun!" Stone said after wrapping a live shot on Good Morning America, doubling over laughing at MacFarlane's varied intonation attempts to deliver the title of the a.m. news show.
There was a generally lighter tone – well, if you call making Hitler jokes light – to the often somber and portentous Oscar nom process (which may have helped take the sting out of Ben Affleck's morning), which continued after the official reveals were over. MacFarlane made it all look in-the-moment and off-the-cuff, but it's clear the creator/star of Ted and Family Guy wanted to send a signal that he was putting his own brand of showmanship – even if it's a risky departure from the Oscars' typically staid, pompous and tone-deaf style.
"I haven't been to bed," we heard him say. "I've just been staring at the ceiling deciding if I was going to show up."
MacFarlane's appearance onstage was a departure in and of itself, given that no Oscar host has turned out to unveil the nominees since Charlton Heston back in 1972. "I think it must have gone so badly back then that they just decided never to do it again," MacFarlane quipped. But animation's edgiest icon has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into exactly how his Oscar stint will play out: he and his personal team of writers crafted the gags for the noms, and even staged a quick rehearsal with Stone the day prior – a far cry from what we usually see, which is a past winner or nominee, usually female, would join the president of the Academy for an exercise in awkward TelePrompTer reading.
"I think that what we displayed today was a liiiiittle taste of Seth," explained this year's Oscar ceremony's telecast producer Craig Zadan, a veteran producer of such splashy entertainment as Footloose, Chicago and Hairspray. "Because a lot of people know him and a lot of people don't know him, so as we get closer to Oscar night we're exposing him more and more to the audience in general, and I think that everybody got to see a taste of the humor they're going to get on Oscar night."
"The Academy has been very staid and very, very mired in tradition," agreed Zadan's producing partner Neil Meron. "But when we came on we wanted to blow the cobwebs off, blow the dust away, and we want to make it current, make it relevant. And part of that was the choice of Seth as the host, because he's very much representative of the world, as opposed to just doing what's been done before. The thing about Seth is that he does go far, but he also understands the tradition and the dignity of the Academy. So today was a perfect example that he can have fun without crossing the line. He always had that, and part of our choice was when we talked to him we didn't have to give him that line. He told that to us, and we said ‘Dude, you're it.'"
MacFarlane admitted he does want to show proper reverence, but at the same time "shake it up a little bit, so that it does goose a few people now and then." He's not exactly planning to launch a Ricky Gervais-style assault on the famous faces in the crowd. "It's a balance. It's still an amorphous work in progress. And we're still finding that tone."
The producers suggested that MacFarlane genuinely hopes to break into the rarefied ranks of Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal as an Oscar host for the ages. But for now, the host himself isn't sweating it – even now that he's emceeing while also being a trophy contender as the lyricist of Ted's Best Song nominee "Everybody Needs a Best Friend." Is he feeling nervous at all?
"Not as much as I should be," he says with apparent sincerity. "I guess that's a bad sign, isn't it? It's usually a sign that something terrible is going to happen."