LOS ANGELES — The musical numbers on Sunday’s Academy Awards telecast by most accounts were hit and miss, but in some respects the most impressive song wasn’t one of the big production numbers from “Les Miserables” or “Skyfall.”
It was the one host Seth MacFarlane and singer Kristin Chenoweth sang while the closing credits rolled, “Here’s to the Losers.”
In a drastically revamped version of the Jack Segal-Robert Wells ode to underdogs recorded by Frank Sinatra for his 1964 album “Softly, as I Leave You,” MacFarlane and Chenoweth served up a swinging musical salute to those who ended up with the short end of the Oscar stick Sunday.
“Here’s to all the losing works of art
From ‘Lincoln’ to ‘Amour,’
To the disappointed actors wondering
What they dressed up for.”
Since the winners in many of the contests cited weren’t known until a few minutes before the end of the 3 1/2-hour show, the question arises: How did show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron pull it off?
“It was actually quite complex,” Zadan said Monday. “It really started off with Neil and me the first day we were hired by the (motion picture) academy to do the show. We took 40 years of Oscar shows on DVD and watched them to see what works, what doesn’t work, what consistently is not working each year – really analyzing every minute of it.
“One of the things we noticed was that at the show’s end, after best picture has been announced, the host says” – Zadan’s voice shifted to high-speed delivery – “’Thank you very much, goodbye, hope you had a good time!’ On every show.
“That is not acceptable for us. So we thought about ‘What do we do?’ We also had to throw into the mix something that would not be adding any time to the show, because by the time it gets to the end, people want it to be over because it’s so long.”
So they decided on a closing song from MacFarlane, who, outside of his work creating the hit animated TV shows “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” along with last year’s movie “Ted,” recorded a big-band album of standards in 2011, “Music Is Better Than Words.”
“We thought Seth would be a great musical team with Kristin Chenoweth,” Meron said. “Seth actually had done a template of a lyric based on how he thought the evening would play out, and we had a team of writers backstage monitoring the show to make last-minute additions and get them to Kristin and Seth to quickly learn them. They also had a teleprompter that the new lyrics would be in, so they’d be there if they needed it.”
MacFarlane, they said, emailed several sets of lyrics covering various possible outcomes during the run-up to Sunday’s show. The combination of prewritten alternatives and on-the-spot updates allowed them to name-drop effortlessly as they sang:
“Here’s to nominee Quvenzhane,
Lift up that little head.
You’ll be at the future Oscars
When the rest of us are dead …
Oh, poor Bradley Cooper,
Get your chin off the floor.
Here’s your silver lining:
You’ll do ‘Hangover 4.’”
The final verse actually was the same as in the Sinatra original, something of a corner-bar benediction to everyone in the house:
“Here’s the last toast of the evening
Here’s to those that still believe
All the losers will be winners
All the givers shall receive
Here’s to trouble-free tomorrows
May your sorrows all be small
Here’s to the losers
Bless them all.”
That also required extra preparation, not just for the performers but also from the audience at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Zadan and Meron had show director Don Mischer ask audience members not to leave immediately after the reading of the best picture winner’s name, which this year came from the White House in an appearance by first lady Michelle Obama.
“What usually happens on the Oscar telecast,” Zadan said, “is that as soon as best picture is announced, everyone is up out of their seats and running off to their parties. We didn’t know if they would listen. We were backstage with Seth for the whole show, watching on monitors. When we got to the end and they started to do the song, we were like, ‘Oh, my God, everyone stayed in their seats – no one got up.’”
Said Meron, “I think maybe after the surprise of having the first lady on the show, they didn’t know what else we had up our sleeves.”
The reaction, Zadan said, has been “fantastic. People were thrilled that the show had an ending for the first time, a real, honest-to-God ending.”