Virtually every year the Oscar telecast replays the famous clip from the 1974 ceremony in which a streaker dashed behind presenter David Niven. And Vulture has learned that producers of this year’s telecast were trying to recreate that moment complete with full frontal nudity, but ABC nixed the idea, worried that if pixellation failed them in the live broadcast and someone’s li’l Oscar made an appearance, the network could face a mighty FCC fine. (Update: Since we first posted this story, Vulture has learned that a major Hollywood TV star was set to do the streaking Sunday: Arrested Development alum Will Arnett. See details below.)
Why not just have Will Ferrell speed by in a flesh-colored bodysuit? The TV audience wouldn’t know the difference, right? No, that wouldn’t do: The idea was to inspire an authentically shocked reaction from the Kodak Theater audience, and nothing does that quite like a flapping penis. Producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer were all for it, and were casting for nudists, but the risks of something peeking out behind a digitized crotch cloud were too great. Academy president Tom Sherak was also rooting for the bit, thinking it would be a great nod to the Oscars’s unpredictable moments. “What makes the show [are the] spontaneous remarks: That woman who famously said, ‘This dress costs more than my movie,’” says Sherak. “Any time you pay homage to those moments, I think it’s great. ABC wouldn’t allow it, and I understand why, but I would have laughed. I would have been shocked, but then I would have laughed.”
For those of you wondering, “How do you plan a spontaneous moment?”, keep in mind that the original Oscar streak may have also been planned in advance: Niven is said to have asked for a pen during dress rehearsal at the moment that the streaker would later emerge, perhaps to jot down the line he’d use later, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.”
The producers are sad to lose the bit, but decided that risking the FCC’s wrath was too dangerous. Perhaps it shows that freeing the Oscars from the constraints of the FCC by moving to cable might be just the thing to goose ratings, which have been on a downward spiral for the last decade. Sadly, the Academy just on Monday made a deal to keep the Oscars on ABC through 2014. So, enjoy your clothing, Oscar viewers!
Update 7:15 p.m.
Our Kodak Theater spies now tell us the producers’ brilliant streaking idea wasn’t just a whimsical notion. No, Arnett was actually spotted rehearsing the bit Thursday on site at the Kodak, suggesting that it was only later in the day that the word came down from ABC that streaking – even with Arnett covering his privates – wasn’t going to work for the network’s FCC-scarred censors (two words: Janet Jackson). We hear Arnet’s wife Amy Poehler was also at the Kodak. In any event, perhaps the Alphabet will realize there’s a reason the 30-second delay was invented and that Will and his discretely covered willie somehow make it on Sunday’s show.