LOS ANGELES - You think the Academy Awards are boring? Try the nominations. It's generally a sleepy academy suit and a sleepy starlet droning a list of names at 5:30 a.m.
Except last time. Some baby-faced guy took the stage, advised people who don't know him to pretend he's Donny Osmond, then stood beside sleepy starlet Emma Stone and cut loose with this line about best-picture nominee "Amour":
"I read 'Amour' was co-produced in Austria and Germany, right? The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something, it was Hitler."
For good or bad, Oscar host Seth MacFarlane already has enlivened the awards scene. As emcee of a broadcast notorious for its predictability and geezer audience, MacFarlane's cheekiness may prod younger viewers to check out the Oscars just to see what he might pull. Just how far will he push it?
"It's a balance between not being completely dismissive of the ceremony, but at the same time, injecting a little bit of a lighter sensibility than maybe we've seen in the past," said MacFarlane, the impudent creator of "Family Guy" and last summer's potty-mouthed blockbuster "Ted." "The Oscars does have a history of taking itself so deadly seriously. And while it obviously is a ceremony that's important to the people involved, you know we're not curing cancer here."
The most-beloved Oscar hosts - Billy Crystal, Johnny Carson, Bob Hope - are those who play it safe while managing to poke gentle fun at Hollywood, the awards and the nominees. With TV ratings generally declining over the last few decades, Oscar overseers have tried shaking things up, trying out new hosts and different ways of handing out prizes.
The results have been mixed. Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres earned polite praise as Oscar hosts. Chris Rock ruffled feathers with a few tart jabs but was mostly respectful. Hugh Jackman was charming and energetic, while Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were an able team as dual hosts.
Anne Hathaway and James Franco were brought in two years ago to court young viewers. Hathaway was cute and perky, but Franco seemed to sleepwalk through the show. Last year, organizers lured back Crystal.
The audience has inched up from an all-time low five years ago, when 32 million people watched the Oscars. But ratings remain well below the Oscar heyday decades ago, and the show has never been able to shed its image as a marathon broadcast where rich and famous people hand out trophies to other rich and famous people.