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Seth MacFarlane, Oscars Host? The Pros and the Cons

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Yesterday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Seth MacFarlane will host next year’s Academy Awards. Yes, that Seth MacFarlane. And yes, those Oscars. The ones about the movies.

It is definitely a bold choice, which is a nice way of saying surprising, which is a nice way of saying mind-boggling. Even if you loved Ted, MacFarlane is not deeply associated with the movies. (Though that didn’t stop, for instance, Johnny Carson from being a beloved Oscars host for years.) His three animated shows on Fox are still going strong, but their comic sensibility is not exactly that of the typical Oscars, nor is the Oscar audience necessarily his.

Still, as a business move, there may be something to be said for the strategy of people-who-were-going-to-watch-the-Oscars-regardless-plus-some-extra-young-folks. So let’s lay out the potential pros and cons of having MacFarlane as a host.

First, the pros:

* Show Tunes! There actually is a way in which his sensibility dovetails with the Oscars, and that’s a love of big production numbers. The guy can honest-to-God sing (see above), and he’s very comfortable on a live stage in a tux. I can’t imagine that MacFarlane would get a gig like this and not use it as an excuse to belt it out, Broadway-style.

* The Guy Is Funny. I’m not a fan of the non-sequitur, throw-everything-in-a-blender style of MacFarlane’s Family Guy, but even I have to admit some of those disconnected gags that the manatees write can kill. More important, he can be funny as Seth MacFarlane and not Peter Griffin, as he showed, for instance, in Comedy Central’s Charlie Sheen roast. Which brings up the fact that …

* He Can Host. He’s done roasts, he’s done SNL, and he has a kind of old-Hollywood, glad-handing expansiveness about him, which makes me see how someone could see him as an awards host.

But that brings us to the cons:

* But an Oscars Host? I could totally see MacFarlane emceeing the Emmys or the less reverent Golden Globes — or, hell, the Tonys (again, show tunes!). The Oscars, though, are still very traditional awards, a tough place for MacFarlane to be MacFarlane.

* Seth MacWho? MacFarlane is famous, but a certain kind of famous. Fans of his shows know him, and many even recognize him as a nonanimated human. But he’s not an on-camera performer first — he’s a creator, writer and voice actor — which makes this debut a stretch at least.

* Can He Pull It Off? Maybe MacFarlane is the kind of guy who can do whatever he sets his mind to — create a network hit in his 20s, make a movie, sing show tunes — but while he has some experience hosting, his record doesn’t necessarily suggest he’s born for this job. His most recent gig, hosting SNL‘s season debut, felt stiff (when he wasn’t retreating into Family Guy voices), and he was conspicuously staring at the cue cards/prompter during his sketches. And the skills of a roastmaster are not quite those of an Oscar host, who needs to make tens of millions of viewers feel comfortable.

I’ll say this for the pick, anyway: it got my attention. Whether or not the awards race itself is compelling, I’ll be very interested to see if this move is a triumph or a Quagmire.