Oscars 2016: How the Show Has Changed Over 39 Years
(ABC News) — Ask Michael Seligman, a producer of the Oscars since the ’70s, about his favorite Oscar memory, and he might tell you about the 1991 show, during which Madonna sang “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy.” While to him it was the standout moment of the night, the number, he recalled with a chuckle, was almost botched by a sleeping microphone technician.
Or, maybe he’ll joke about how the writers who worked with former host Billy Crystal on his monologue gained so much weight from all the corned beef sandwiches the comedian brought in for them.
Or maybe he’ll recall watching Steve Martin rehearse his material in front of a group of ABC employees before the show.
A producer who’s worked on the show for nearly four decades, Seligman’s seen it all. And while this will be his last Oscars in an official capacity, Seligman, 80, said it promises to be a special one.
“We worked with [Lady Gaga] until 11 o’clock on Monday night, laying down track and listening to her ideas. It’s really good,” he said in an interview with ABC News. “Today I went down to look at the dances for the Weeknd number, which is awesome. It blew my mind.”
Given his experience, that’s quite a feat. Seligman first began working with the Academy decades ago, after years of producing live television. At the time, cameras were larger and more restrictive, dancing had a bigger role in the show, and the set was far less sophisticated than it is now.
“The use of screens has progressed. We used to use a front projection screen so that a person had to be [careful] the shadow wouldn’t block what was on the screen, but everything’s changed. LEDs came in and changed the whole picture,” he said.
He added: “Now, if you look at it from an audience point of view, we have LED screens around the stage. It’s amazing. We’re using more graphics than ever this year than we’ve ever used and they’re beautiful. There are new ways to tell a story and we’re utilizing technology to tell a story in different ways.”
However, Seligman noted, the Academy Awards has always had the most cutting-edge technology. At one point, that meant using lasers on cameras to create a smoke effect, which, he noted, isn’t nearly as expensive as the “toys” they use today.
“When you’re dealing with people like Lady Gaga and The Weeknd and Sam Smith, they want sets and they want their crew there from London. You’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “And that’s for seven-and-a-half minutes!”
And while part of his job is negotiating the cost of such things, he also works tirelessly to secure presenters and manage the run of the show. The Emmy-nominated producer, who is considering returning to the Oscars next year as a consultant, admitted that he’ll miss the excitement of putting on a live show. There’s nothing like the adrenaline rush that comes with producing the Oscars, he said.
“This,” he marveled, “is the biggest show in the world.”