If you’re like much of America, you may have had one reaction to news that ABC hired “Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane to host the Oscars in February: Who’s Seth MacFarlane?
OK, I’m exaggerating a bit. Still, if you know MacFarlane only as the jumpy guy with the mega-watt smile and a bunch of odd impressions hosting “Saturday Night Live" or the dude who couldn’t find the onstage microphone during last week’s Emmys, ABC’s move might seem like a head-scratching choice.
But if you’re among his legions of fans — mostly young guys — who turned the animated comedy “Family Guy" into a $200 million-a-year franchise for Fox and made MacFarlane’s directorial debut “Ted" into a $400 million film, you might see this as the first reason to watch the Oscars.
That means there are three good reasons this might work and three reasons it might be the stupidest idea ever.
1. MacFarlane’s fans are rabid, young and pop culture-savvy. Unlike James Franco and Anne Hathaway — youthful past Oscar hosts plopped into an unforgiving setting — MacFarlane has a fan base used to following his unique vision, which means attracting viewers who passed up “The Master" for a second showing of “The Expendables 2."
2. MacFarlane has done this job before. Kinda. No matter what you think of his work on SNL or hosting the Comedy Central roasts, he remains an affable, witty personality on TV, ready to puncture any tension with an oddball impression or poop joke. And his ability as a crooner shows hints of the range that made Hugh Jackman such a good host.
3. He just might be the future of populist movie comedy. Dangerous as it is to judge an artist by one movie, MacFarlane’s success might connect Oscar to what’s popular in movie comedy.
1. He’s a movie upstart. Oscar ceremonies flow best when hosted by showbiz icons beloved by establishment Hollywood: Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Johnny Carson. Much as Hollywood might envy his box office numbers, will the Meryls, Jacks and Toms (Cruise and Hanks, of course) cotton to a guy with one movie and a bunch of cartoon series under his belt?
2. He’s not an experienced stage performer. The other thing great Oscar hosts have is years of onstage performing chops. Cool as MacFarlane may be, he’s a backstage powerhouse stepping into his brightest spotlight yet (don’t tell his fans, but based on shows like “American Dad" and “The Cleveland Show," I’m not even sure he’s that funny).
3. Does anyone older than 30 know who he is? MacFarlane’s fan base is pretty much the antithesis of the Oscars’ audience. Even Chris Rock joked that no one but women and gay men watch the Academy Awards, right before hosting them.
But a MacFarlane choice brings buzz (like this story) without scandals like volatile producer Brett Ratner’s departure last year (along with host Eddie Murphy) after he used a gay slur in a press conference.
So maybe Oscar and ABC have already won, no matter what happens Feb. 24.