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Can Ellen cut it as host? (w/video)

  • Ellen DeGeneres is returning as host at the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 2014, after making her Oscar debut in 2007 and she’s had a close hand in the writing process, Neil Meron said. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file 2007)

On Sunday night, in living rooms across America, TV viewers will have their Academy Awards pools in hand, anxiously hoping to predict which movie stars are about to strike gold.

But, really, that’s child’s play. You want a real challenge? Try predicting who will host next year’s show.

Not so easy, is it? Not when the Academy, in recent years, has displayed a wild, whiplash-inducing inconsistency with its host-selection process. How can we make an well-informed forecast, after all, if Oscar can’t even figure out what kind of show it wants to be?

This year, Ellen DeGeneres takes the wheel, returning to the hosting job for the first time since 2007. DeGeneres, 55, is the proverbial “safe” choice — someone who can deliver some gentle, feel-good humor without pricking those gigantic Hollywood egos.

She’s also a reactionary choice — an attempt to steer the show far, far away from the wreckage that Seth MacFarlane left behind.

You remember MacFarlane. The brains behind “Family Guy” (and all the potty-mouthed hilarity that the show entails), he represented yet another bizarre bid by Oscar to bring younger, “hipper” viewers into the fold. At the time of his hiring, producers called him the “consummate” host who would make the telecast “entertaining and fresh.” What they didn’t count on is that he’d also make it a bit repulsive.

MacFarlane’s hosting gig, which featured an entire musical number devoted to women’s breasts (“We Saw Your Boobs!”), was blasted by critics and viewers, who spewed such colorful adjectives as “sophomoric,” “sexist,” “racist,” “lame,” “distasteful” and “cringeworthy.” It all left fans to debate whether MacFarlane was a bigger disaster than the one in 2011, when Oscar previously decided to go “young and edgy” — with a touch of movie-star glam — by installing James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts. Hathaway, bless her, gave it her all, but Franco basically phoned it in.

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