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February 17, 2009 8:59 PM

Eye, Media

Morty's Oscars

Until fairly recently, the Oscars really were about the awards. But then came corporate sponsorship, the red carpet, and Joan Rivers, whose fashion commentary turned the pre-show into a bigger event than the actual awards. And she wasn't even hosting...

Until fairly recently, the Oscars really were about the awards. But then came corporate sponsorship, the red carpet, and Joan Rivers, whose fashion commentary turned the pre-show into a bigger event than the actual awards. And she wasn't even hosting on ABC.

This year, the folks who throw the Oscars have settled on Tim Gunn, Robin Roberts, and Jess Cagle of "Entertainment Weekly." Running things behind the scenes is Robert Morton, a/k/a Morty, the well known former executive producer for "The David Letterman Show." WWD caught up with him Monday and he was happy to talk about everything from Joaquin Phoenix's much-lampooned stint on Letterman to what ABC has up its sleeve this year.

WWD: I think I should just start out by saying that you look fantastic, because even though we are doing this by phone and I have no idea whether that's true, that's what everyone says when interviewing someone during the Oscar pre-show. So you look fantastic. Who are you wearing?
Robert Morton: Who am I wearing? To the Oscars?

WWD: No. Now.
RM: A pair of jeans and a James Perse sweater with my Blundstone shoes.

WWD: What are those?
RM: They're the greatest shoes. They're Australian and they're indestructible...They're called Blund, b-l-u-n-d It's my uniform, it's all I wear...I wear Levi 501s, Blundstone shoes and a white Agnes B shirt or a James Perse T-shirt.

WWD: Now, you are known to many people as the guy who produced David Letterman for many, many years. Is it weird going from this thing that's in some way very much a guy show to doing the part of the Oscars that is so girly...I mean, the pre-show really is all about the dresses in some way, is it not?
RM: It is. It's mostly about that. But we're looking at the show this year and we're approaching it like it's a talk show and hopefully the chat will push a button and actually get some payoff. Nell Scovell is writing questions for us. Also, this year, if Kate Winslet is on the red carpet, we'll show a box on the bottom with all the dresses she's worn on the carpet in years past. But David Letterman actually has an element that's about the clothes. The first thing you see is that wide shot of the celebrity and you want to see that as well as Joaquin Phoenix and the train wreck he is.

WWD: Yes, what did you think about that? Did you think Dave was too mean to him?
RM: No [Phoenix] brought it on himself. I don't think that's what he's like all the time, but he came on and acted like an ass. It's a talk show. Talk. Promote your movie. I think Dave did what he had to do and it was nice to see him do it.

WWD: There have been reports that some of the celebrities who normally get interviewed on the red carpet will be going through the back entrance this time. Why did you guys do this?
RM: That's been overblown. I'm perfectly content with whom we've got coming, I don't think they're holding anything back really...They're giving us plenty of people who are presenters. It's pretty hard to say no to doing the red carpet when all the celebrities are getting free dresses and free jewelry.

WWD: How do you feel the economy will effect the show- do you worry that all of this celebrating would look out of touch?
RM: I think the whole thing is a good escape. Ninety-nine percent of the people who watch the show can't afford the jewelry in the best economy. It's a show.

WWD: How did you settle on Tim Gunn?
RM: Tim was hired by Larry Mark and Bill Condon before I got here, but he has such a following, he has a such a constituency and he's nice...

WWD: Did you want someone nice?
RM: We have to have someone nice. We don't have much choice. We're ABC. We're the Oscars and we need the publicists and everyone else. We can't bite the hand that feeds us. They can do that on E!, where they don't really have a stake. But it's hard for me. I come from the world of comedy.
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