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Eddie Murphy is Oscar host

Eddie Murphy as Billy Ray Valentine in

Eddie Murphy as Billy Ray Valentine in "Trading Places," left; Murphy as Prince Akeem in "Coming to America."

And just like that, we've got a new Oscar host who needs no introduction.

Which is, to a certain degree, the whole point. Muprhy's appointment was made yesterday following some online reports; it was the slightest of surprises because Billy Crystal has also reportedly expressed interest.  

Why Eddie? Here's a good piece from that more or less anticipated Brett Ratner's (he's this year's producer) great enthusiasm for his new host.

Murphy -- who hasn't, by the way, done much in the way of TV since "The PJs" -- was first mentioned, I believe, as a possible contender on Humormill, and later said this was likely to happen. The Oscar telecast is Feb. 26.

It's a fascinating choice for a whole host -- bad pun intended -- of reasons. No one really knows what he's like in this kind of role; his standup days are decades behind him, and "SNL" is deep in the last century and arguably most (young) viewers paradoxically only know his voice as Donkey from the "Shrek" movies.

Clearly, Ratner is banking on the curiosity factor, but much, much more; last year's Hathaway-Franco duo was widely considered a dud, and there's clearly a whole generation out there that reveres Murphy, and must be wondering why he never had done this.

For Murphy? The Oscar gig represents little to no downside, and pretty much all up. He comes at the end (or beginning, if you will) of a decade that has represented a true crisis of confidence for the Academy - beset by declining ratings for arguably the world's most prestigious broadcast and almost interminable nattering by critics who always seem to find something wrong with the host. Last year's Franco/Hathaway stint was chemically imbalanced if you will; the Baldwin/Martin team wasn't memorable enough to earn a repeat. Only Jon Stewart and Steve Martin have repeated this past decade, while "experiments" like cheeky Chris Rock were deemed inappropriate for Oscar's celebratory night.

Enter Murphy: His non-animated career has basically languished - if not flatlined - over the past decade, but his name and legacy seem assured despite "Norbit;" he was even an Oscar contender a few years ago for "Dreamgirls." But it's hard to imagine he's doing this to boost his career in some material sense, and if he thinks it will,  he's getting bad advice. The Oscar gig tends to be the gilding of the lily. The host's rep is already so secure that this is almost an honorarium. Murphy has been a big part of this industry the past three decades, and he was once very funny. This combination could actually work. Or -- of course -- it could not. He's a talented live performer, who (umm) has spurned live. Can he recapture those chops in front of a billion? Will many of those billion viewers --  those under 25 at least -- even know who this guy is? ("Hey mommy, look! It's Donkey!")

Murphy: “I am enormously honored to join the great list of past Academy Award hosts from Hope and Carson to Crystal, Martin and Goldberg, among others,” said Murphy. “I’m looking forward to working with Brett and Don on creating a show that is enjoyable for both the fans at home and for the audience at the Kodak Theatre as we all come together to celebrate and recognize the great film contributions and collaborations from the past year.”


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