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MATT DRUDGE // DRUDGE REPORT 2002�








XXXXX DRUDGE REPORT XXXXX TUE MARCH 26, 2002 12:02:14 ET XXXXX

FADING OSCAR PLOTS JUMP-START: OPRAH, LENO CONSIDERED FRESH HOST OPTIONS

**Exclusive**

LOS ANGELES -- The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is looking to jump-start it annual Oscar ceremony with a shakeup in hosting duties -- after TV ratings for the awards show hit all-time lows, the DRUDGE REPORT has learned.

While the length of the broadcast is the publicly stated villain of this year's NIELSEN meltdown, top executives at ABC and ranking Academy officials have determined hostess Whoopi Goldberg was a factor into the audience fade.

"Whoopi will likely be the fall gal," a top network source said the morning after the night before. "Next year, we want one person: Oprah Winfrey! It would be great!"

Just as NBC TONIGHT SHOW host Jay Leno has emerged as a new favorite to host the Oscars among influential Academy insiders.

MORE

"In all honesty, Drudge, a close study of the ratings show the audience hit historic low numbers throughout most of the hours," explained a top ABC executive who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "The running time of the show is not the real issue. Hell, who wouldn't want it to go all night long?

"We need a host America loves... someone who can bring magic to the broadcast: That person is Oprah Winfrey! It was a shame to have her in Hollywood this year -- when she, in retrospect, should have been the one on the stage."

Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast drew the lowest rating in history, according to NIELSEN MEDIA RESEARCH. Its 25.4 rating with hostess Goldberg -- who began the program announcing she was the original "sex beast" -- was worse than last year's previous low, 26.2, with Steve Martin.

The show's ratings have declined more than 60% from 15 years ago.

LENO OPTION

"In the spirit of [Johnny] Carson, Jay Leno could finally bring some stability to the ceremony!" one ranking Academy official said from Malibu on Tuesday. "Let's try him out as host. Let's give it a shot.

"The problem with having Mr. Leno has always been, from my understanding, ABC's reluctance to feature an NBC star... Come on, Leno is the obvious choice here. I say the Academy should take a stand."

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