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Replacing Kevin Hart: Is hosting the Oscars a no-win gig?

Amid renewed controversy over his past anti-gay remarks, comedian from Philadelphia steps down from a job that's increasingly a no-win proposition.

Comedian Kevin Hart looks over at hip hop artist Meek Mill while the Sixers played the Rockets.  YONG KIM/Staff Photographer
Comedian Kevin Hart looks over at hip hop artist Meek Mill while the Sixers played the Rockets. YONG KIM/Staff PhotographerRead more

In the wake of Kevin Hart’s quick departure from the job, it has to be asked: Is there any such thing as a perfect host for the Oscars?

And, if such a person exist — and by some miracle has managed to become famous without offending anyone, ever — why would he or she even want the gig?

Hart, the Philadelphia-born comedian whose ability to dependably put moviegoers in seats, was an obvious attraction to an awards show whose ratings hit an all-time low this year. Did the thought of drawing in viewers who’d come for Hart, rather than to cheer on nominated films that may be less popular than those he appears in, cause the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to discount the anti-gay comments he’s made in the past? Or did Oscar officials believe that Hart has matured — as he said he has in a late-night Instagram post Thursday — but then panicked when LGBT advocacy group GLAAD raised the issue of what it called Hart’s “anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and record?"

I can see why GLAAD would have concerns.

But given that the Oscars went through this just seven years ago, when Eddie Murphy also dropped out as host following the exit of producer Brett Ratner over what the Hollywood Reporter called “a series of ill-judged remarks” that included at least one homophobic slur, I’d have thought those issues would’ve been addressed with Hart by ABC and the academy before he was offered the job, not after.

But then, I’ve never tried to book an Oscars host.

I have been watching the show as a critic, though, for more than 20 years, and the only thing I know for sure is that there’s no longer any upside to hosting the Oscars for anyone who’s famous enough to be considered.

Not even Billy Crystal, who stepped in to host in 2012 after Murphy dropped out, was as good as we remember him being in the years he set the bar for Academy Awards hosts in the post-Johnny Carson era.

The worst outings have been the ones in which the academy was clearly reaching for the kind of viewers who long ago wrote off the Oscars for the bloated, self-congratulatory show it too often is: the ill-advised pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco in which she was as charming as the writing could allow for and he seemed at times half-asleep, or the night when Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane showed off his song-and-dance chops with “We Saw Your Boobs.”

Jimmy Kimmel, who’s hosted for the last two years, brought neither diversity nor a new audience for ABC, but he did handle both the Moonlight-La La Land mixup and the first Oscars of the #MeToo era with aplomb. The network, which still has him on the payroll, could do worse than bringing him in for a third go.

Or maybe they could ask Hart’s Night School costar Tiffany Haddish to break out that Alexander McQueen dress one more time.

Almost anything would be better, though, than making the Oscars all about the host. Hart, an enthusiastic, funny guy whom I truly hope has evolved, might have been a breath of fresh air for the 2019 Academy Awards, but it’s unlikely he could have overcome the structural problems of the show, which delivers its biggest moments after much of its potential audience is in bed.

In a viewing universe where we can get almost anything on demand, awards shows, like sports, make us wait. And in the case of the Oscars, wait some more. By the time the Best Picture people are mounting the stage, we’ve had time enough to pick the hosts to bits.

Carson — and for most of his hosting gigs, Crystal -- didn’t have to contend with Twitter, or with what have become outsize expectations that some timely quips can make up for the show’s often-sluggish pace, or the speeches that have become a litany of people who are either on the winners' payroll or to whom they owe fealty.

The Oscars may be better off without a controversial host, but Hart, too, may be better off without the Oscars.