Oscar producers to mix old and new at the big show 

The Oscars are still over a month away, but producers are already spilling secrets: Co-host James Franco can and will sing. The show will honor Oscar's 83-year history by presenting some awards during mini tributes to classic movies, performances and eras. And there will be at least one element in the show that first appeared on an Oscar telecast 40 years ago.

First-time Oscar producing pair Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer are mixing old and new for the 83rd annual Academy Awards, driven by their love of film, tradition and the power of the big show.

"We both had a lifetime of ideas stored up of what we'd want to do if we were producing the show," Cohen says.

A film and television producer for 20 years, he "fell in love" with the Academy Awards when he first watched them with his grandmothers at age 8. He started practicing his acceptance speech in the mirror that year, and his practice paid off when he won the best picture Oscar for 1999's "American Beauty."

"Right around that year, I started thinking that a next phase with the show is I would love to produce it someday," says Cohen, a slender guy with shoulder-grazing golden curls and an easy smile.

Cohen tapped Mischer — a multiple Emmy winner who has produced and directed Super Bowl halftime shows, Olympics opening ceremonies and the Kennedy Center Honors — to be his partner. Despite such varied experience over his 35-year career, Mischer says putting on the Oscars is "different and unique."

"We have the reputation of the predominant American art form to protect and spread the message to the world," says the gray-haired, bespectacled Mischer. "This will be watched by billions of people when you put it all together, so you do feel that sense of responsibility."

To prepare their show, the producers watched every Oscar telecast from the 1950s to today. They interviewed all the past Oscar producers they could find. Then they let their imaginations rip.

The challenge? Honoring the history and tradition of the Academy Awards with a show that's fun to watch, both for the industry crowd in the Kodak Theatre and for film fans around the world.

One new thing they came up with was tapping a leading lady and leading man as hosts: Franco and Anne Hathaway.

"That had never really happened before in the history of the Oscars," Cohen says.

The two stars, who were both nominated for Golden Globes and could also be Oscar contenders, are bringing their own ideas to the show, and singing is among them.

Franco "threw down the gauntlet a little bit," Cohen says. "He said, 'I want to sing, I can sing and I've asked (the producers) to let me sing.'

"I think we'll be taking him up on his request."

Another new element (that also harkens back to history) producers are planning are various "scenic transitions" during the show. Music and images will take viewers to different points in film history, where some of the more technical awards will be presented.

"Different Oscars are being given out in different settings and contexts throughout the evening," Cohen says. "It might be a time, it might be a place, it might be a film, it might be a year, but you'll know when you're there ... and you'll see at least one, probably two Oscars presented there. Then you'll be coming back to today in preparation for your next journey."

The ceremony will also include something borrowed from a previous Oscar show, though the producers declined to reveal exactly what.

"We found a great idea from 1970 and we're stealing it!" Cohen says.

The producers recently moved their Oscar team into a swanky office inside a Century City highrise. Framed photos of classic movie moments dot the walls in the otherwise anonymous space — except for the 7-foot-tall golden Oscar in the conference room, which offers views of the Hollywood sign.

The team has invested months of planning, but they can only get so far without some key information: The nominees. They'll be announced Jan. 25.

"Everything is determined by who gets nominated," Mischer says. "We have absolutely no control over that and we don't find out any sooner than the people watching on TV."

Planning a show without knowing the nominees is like sitting atop a steep roller coaster, he says, "and on January 25th, we start the freefall."

The Academy Awards will be presented on Feb. 27.

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