We're less than two months out from the 91st Academy Awards ceremony, and the Academy still hasn't announced a replacement host for comedian Kevin Hart.
The Hollywood Reporter sounded the alarm Wednesday: "Sources within the Academy's 300-person staff and 54-person board of governors have told The Hollywood Reporter that they have no idea how things are progressing, but they are growing concerned as Hollywood's biggest night rapidly approaches. Indeed, not since Jon Stewart was announced as the host of the 78th Oscars on Jan. 5, 2006, and only once before that in the 21st century, when Whoopi Goldberg was announced as the host of the 74th on Jan. 7, 2002, has the search for a host extended into the calendar year of the show itself."
While the Academy doesn't appear to know exactly who they want, they do know who they don't want, THR stresses: "someone who is socially divisive (especially after the Hart debacle), having concluded that politically-outspoken hosts have contributed to the show's ratings declines in recent years; and they do not want someone who primarily appeals to older viewers, who are likely to watch the show regardless of who hosts."
While the Academy hits the panic button, the ousted former host appears to be doing just fine. Not only is he now the second-highest paid comedian in the world (just after Jerry Seinfeld), his popularity hasn't taken the hit many predicted.
"Despite the furor earlier this month over past homophobic tweets that resulted in his exiting his Academy Awards gig, the comedian’s reputation has proved remarkably resilient in the public eye, according to Spotted, a data and research provider focused on the celebrity endorsement space," Variety reports. "Spotted’s 'consumer approval' metric, which measures a mix of likability, relatability and trustworthiness among U.S. consumers, measured a rebound of nearly 50% for Hart after he apologized."
Hart registered only an 11.55% drop in public approval immediately following the blow-up over his past tweets and jokes that were widely condemned as homophobic and for which he has since apologized. That drop is a little over one-point less than average for celebrities after similar controversies.
"Kevin Hart has an uncanny ability to recover from scandal," said Spotted CEO Janet Comenos, Variety reports. "His ability to quickly rebound is directly correlated to how high he scores in terms of consumer approval, pre-scandal. When a celebrity is so well-liked in the eyes of consumers, just like a mother’s favorite child, they can almost do no wrong."
Spotted says they've found that Hart has been able to recover from past controversies about 2-3 times faster than other stars.
The Oscars meltdown began within hours of the Academy announcing Hart as their choice as the next host. After activists accused Hart of "homophobia" due to comments and tweets from 2009-2011, Hart said the Academy contacted him and demanded that he apologize publicly or they'd be forced to go with someone else. Just about 48 hours after being announced as the host, Hart announced that he was stepping down.
"I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year's Oscar's....this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists," Hart wrote in a pair of tweets on December 7. "I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past."
In an Instagram video he posted a few hours before his announcement, Hart said the Academy gave him an ultimatum: apologize or we'll move on.
"I chose to pass. I passed on the apology," said Hart. "The reason why I passed is because I’ve addressed this several times. This is not the first time this has come up. I've addressed it. I've spoken on it. I've said where the rights and wrongs were. I've said who I am now versus who I was then. I've done it. I've done it. I'm not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I moved on."
A few days later, Variety reported that inside sources said Hart's resignation "blindsided" the Academy and left its leadership "scrambling" to find someone to replace him. "They're freaking out," a "top comedy agent" told the outlet.
Among the comments that got Hart in trouble was a bit from 2010 in which he joked that his "biggest fear" was that his son would end up turning gay. "Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic," he said. "I have nothing against gay people. Be happy. Do what you want to do. But me, as a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will."
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Hart apologized for his past comments and suggested they were more about his own insecurities than harboring "homophobia"
"It's about my fear," he said. "I’m thinking about what I did as a dad, did I do something wrong, and if I did, what was it? Not that I’m not gonna love my son or think about him any differently. The funny thing within that joke is it’s me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities — I panicked. It has nothing to do with him, it’s about me. That’s the difference between bringing a joke across that’s well thought-out and saying something just to ruffle feathers."