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OSCAR - THEY'VE GOT YOU COVERED; ABC, KTLA AND E! BATTLE FOR VIEWERS.

Byline: Marla Matzer Daily News Staff Writer

They're often predictable. They've featured horrendous production numbers and unfunny jokes. Still, America loves to watch the Academy Awards.

Last year's telecast drew a record 87 million U.S. viewers, many of them rooting for the box-office favorite, ``Titanic.'' Like the Super Bowl, the Oscars have become a nearly full-day TV event for some, with hours of live, specially themed coverage devoted to the biggest night in Hollywood. E! Entertainment has comedian Joan Rivers interviewing stars as they arrive; Los Angeles' KTLA (Channel 5) has a ``limo-cam'' that follows a particular nominee making his or her way to the event.

This year's Oscarcast promises to be one of the more interesting in recent years, for a number of reasons. The top races this time aren't generally considered sure things. An honorary award to Elia Kazan - who named names during the McCarthy era - promises to invite controversy. This will also be the first year ABC has sewed up exclusive rights to a half-hour of pre-awards TV coverage.

ABC has broadcast the awards for more than 20 years. The show has moved to Sunday from Monday this year for the first time. The move was made to turn the Oscars into an even bigger TV event: Sunday is the biggest TV viewing night of the week, and the weekend time slot will allow more of the East Coast audience to see the end - and more of the West Coast audience to see the beginning of the broadcast.

ABC's deal with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has other TV outlets buzzing. In the past, channels such as KTLA have covered star arrivals live up to the moment the doors close; this year, they'll have to stop broadcasting live at 5 p.m.

ABC has hired actress Geena Davis and CNN entertainment reporter Jim Moret to host its exclusive preshow, ``Sunday at the Oscars.'' Dennis E. Doty, the show's producer, says the half-hour will include star interviews conducted by Davis inside the hall and on an outside platform by Moret. In addition, according to Doty, ``Sunday'' will include memorable clips from past shows.

Representatives of other outlets that have their own preshows claim they're not threatened by ABC's half-hour preshow lock. ``In a way, we sort of regard it as a backhanded compliment (that ABC went after the half-hour exclusive),'' says Sam Rubin, the ``KTLA Morning News'' entertainment reporter who co-hosts KTLA's ``Live From the Academy Awards'' program with former Miss America Leanza Cornett.

Rubin can't resist a bit of sniping, though. ``I think it's kind of funny that ABC hired a guy from CNN to do their interviews. It goes to show that it's a specialized thing - and there was nobody at ABC who could interview stars,'' Rubin says. He adds, ``We're nationally syndicated, and several ABC stations have picked us up in past years. We've cut into ABC's audience. So now they're flexing their muscles to some degree.''

Rubin says the only ``weird'' thing about the situation is ABC's demand that those from other TV outlets not leave the premises during this half hour. ``Originally, we were going to go across the street or something and keep doing live coverage during that time,'' Rubin says. ``We'll still keep taping coverage, which we can air later. But it's almost like we're prisoners there,'' he says with a laugh.

John Rieber, E!'s vice president in charge of live event coverage, maintains

that the cable channel's staggering 11 hours of pre-awards programming won't be affected by ABC's new deal. ``There is plenty for everyone,'' Rieber says, ``and it's going to be an all-day party for us. We'll have been live for eight hours before ABC even starts.''

For its part, ABC and the producers of its preshow say they're not looking to exclude anyone else, just to make their own presentation bigger. ``We're taking a page from the Super Bowl. It's always featured a grand overture to the event,'' says Doty.

Doty called any suggestion that ABC was trying to corner the market for top star interviews ``absolutely not true ... the Oscars is a giant story. There's a lot of story to be told by everybody, and they'll all have their place.''

It remains to be seen what, if any, coverage ABC may give in its preshow to the controversy surrounding Elia Kazan's honorary Oscar.

``Protests happen every year, and they're not normally part of the show,'' an ABC spokesman said this week. He cited examples such as the academy letting Vanessa Redgrave ramble about ``Zionist hoodlums'' in 1977 as proof that the show hasn't tried to quash controversy in the past.

Other outlets are vowing to cover any such fracas. Controversy, after all, makes for good television. ``We cover everything that takes place at (the awards) ... Whatever happens there, we will cover it completely,'' says E!'s Rieber.

The bread and butter of the E! and KTLA preshows, though, remains celebrity interviews. E! scored a coup five years ago by getting celebrity comedian/host Joan Rivers to conduct its red carpet interviews. ``Stars don't tend to know outlets; they know people. E! gets a lot of attention because of Joan Rivers,'' admits KTLA's Rubin.

To help grease the wheels, though, both E! and KTLA make sure they do a little preshow publicity of their own. ``We send invitations and good-luck gifts to the nominees,'' says Rieber, ``and invite them to call Joan. We contact publicists, and encourage them to have their people there early. It's easier to have time to talk if they get there early on.''

Rubin says KTLA also does its own pre-Oscar campaigning. ``We court the publicists. (At the pre-awards day ``walk-through'') we have a photographer take their pictures and send them the photos. It's a good keepsake.''

And the feeling that no publicity is bad publicity is likely to play in everyone's favor on Oscar day, regardless of ABC's new preshow. ``When I've had someone who was nominated, we'd always hit all the stops,'' says veteran publicist Henri Bollinger.

Says Bollinger, ``I don't think there's any pecking order to doing interviews at the Oscars. The pecking order comes in with the post-Oscar parties ... but once you're there (at the awards), that's what you're there for. You go down the whole line, you talk to everyone.''

The facts

The show: 71st Academy Awards.

What: Hollywood's annual honors night.

The stars: ``More stars than there are in heaven,'' as MGM used to say in its golden age. Preshow co-hosted by actress Geena Davis.

Where: KABC (Channel 7).

When: Preshow hosted by film critic Roger Ebert begins at 3:30 p.m. ``Sunday at the Oscars'' starts at 5 p.m.; awards show begins at 5:30.

The show: '`Live From the Academy Awards.''

What: Oscar preshow featuring star interviews, fashion commentary and more.

The stars: Co-hosted by KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin and ``Entertainment Tonight'' correspondent Leanza Cornett.

Where: KTLA (Channel 5).

When: 3:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The show: E! Entertainment Television pre-Oscar coverage.

What: Eleven hours of pre-Oscar coverage, including celebrity interviews and gossip, fashion commentary, and reporting on the production and planning behind the awards show.

The stars: Arrivals co-hosted by comedian Joan Rivers and her daughter, Melissa Rivers.

Where: E!

When: Coverage starts at 9 a.m. Sunday.

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color--Cover) ABC Stakes its claim to the new Super Sunday

John McCoy/Daily News

(2) The mother-daughter team of Joan and Melissa Rivers will interview the Oscar-bound stars once again for E! Entertainment.

(3) Former Miss America Leanza Cornett and reporter Sam Rubin stake out the red carpet for KTLA's ``Live From the Academy Awards.''

(4) ABC's Oscar pre-show features actress Geena Davis.

The show: 71st Academy Awards.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 16, 1999
Words:1296
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