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With Few Stages Left To Conquer, Neil Patrick Harris Goes To The Oscars

Neil Patrick Harris, seen here hosting the 2013 Emmys, is getting the Oscars job many have long wanted for him.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images
Neil Patrick Harris, seen here hosting the 2013 Emmys, is getting the Oscars job many have long wanted for him.

It was an announcement of an old-school job that played out in a new media landscape: Yesterday, Variety reported that Neil Patrick Harris would host the Oscars, which they tweeted at 4:49 P.M. Harris himself tweeted a little video of himself crossing "Host the Oscars" off his bucket list — also at 4:49 P.M. Then finally, an interminable 26 minutes later, we got the press release from the Academy that announced with excitement that Neil Patrick Harris would host the Oscars in 2015.

It was an announcement to which at least some non-awards-followers must have reacted with a puzzled, "Doesn't Neil Patrick Harris always host the Oscars?"

But in fact, Harris' considerable track record in high-profile awards hosting comes from elsewhere: the Tonys in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and the Emmys in 2009 and 2013. There's a not-unreasonable argument that when you've done what may well be the best musical number that has ever kicked off an awards show (sorry, Snow White), you should raise both fists, yell "NPH OUT!" run around in circles while people scream, and then retire. (Go watch that clip. Again. I'll wait. I always cry at the end, so bring a tissue.)

Instead, Harris is moving on to the biggest hosting stage we've got.

People have been suggesting this for years: since Harris first blew up as the host of the Tonys in 2009, the Oscars have been hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, Billy Crystal, Seth MacFarlane and Ellen DeGeneres, while Doogie partisans waved their arms hollering that they had the guy right here. (There's something oddly fitting in the fact that the Oscars, which struggle so hard to feel relevant and interesting, waited so long to do this, whether by their choice or his, that now it seems like kind of an old idea.)

Of course, a host is only a host; Harris would undoubtedly be the first to say he's benefited enormously in his hosting career from collaborations with the people who wrote the numbers that elevated, in particular, his Tony outings. Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has been an especially critical creative partner, writing the famous insta-raps that Harris performed at the close of a couple of Tony shows as well as co-writing that spectacular 2013 opening number with Next To Normal composer Tom Kitt. Harris hosting the Oscars is fun; a follow-up announcement that he's going to have those guys — or other Broadway geniuses — on his pit crew would be even better.

Awards shows are one of the very few times outside of competitive reality shows when enormous television audiences look at the inside of a theater where live performances are happening. It only makes sense that you go to theater people, whether the awards are for theater or not.

Hosting the Oscars is a little thankless, as is hosting almost anything. You get up, you do an opening number, people either embrace it or pan it, and the verdict comes down. And more often than not, it doesn't go very far past "That was fine." But they've hired a guy who certainly can pull this off. February 22, you'll get to see him try.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
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