Oscars launch marketing blitz

— Artistic appreciation may be the motor that drives Hollywood's awards season, but hype is the gasoline.

For the Oscars to remain relevant in an industry that defines projects in two ways -- hits or flops -- the show planners would like to entice about 55 million people to tune their televisions to ABC Sunday and watch celebrities win what are essentially high-gloss employee of the year prizes.

That's the high-water mark from 1998, when "Titanic" was the big winner.

The marketing blitz this year has included cable TV ads, tie-ins with Oprah Winfrey's show and a high-profile airline flight for this year's Oscars from their factory in Chicago. The press was even let into the Kodak Theater to photograph the rehearsal seat markers to let fans know in advance where stars will sit.

It's all aimed at boosting the event's TV ratings, which sagged to its lowest point of 33.1 million viewers last year, and the key is to put Oscar in front of people again and again and again.

On Tuesday, Oscar telecast producer Joe Roth and actress Julianne Moore, a four-time nominee who will present the editing trophy this year, arrived at a television studio in Culver City for a promotional marathon.

Thirty interviews in three hours, to be exact.

The questions were fed to them through hidden earpieces, while their responses were beamed to TV stations from Tucson to Boston.

Roth and Moore fielded the same questions repeatedly, but they remained game -- smiling and supplying an answer for the gazillionth time as if it were the first.

Among the most repeated questions: "Joe, what kind of surprises can we expect this year?"

"Well, 'surprise' and 'expect' are funny words to have in the same sentence," he responded at one point, but he gave up pointing out paradoxes in favor of talking up host Billy Crystal's multimedia comedy bits and the silly, rather than sappy, tribute to "The Pink Panther" filmmaker Blake Edwards.

At least twice, Moore diplomatically deflected questions about whether she'd be surprised to win -- because Moore isn't nominated this year.

"It's always so much fun, but for me the pressure is off because I'm just presenting," she said the first time.

The second time, she answered, pleasantly but pointedly: "I'm not nominated this year -- so that would be a big surprise!"

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