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Oscars fumble host test in wake of Kevin Hart's exit

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Analysis by Brian Lowry, CNN

Kevin Hart might have been a perfectly good host for the Oscars, before circumstances -- in the form of old tweets -- intervened. But once they did, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have botched the response, yielding a how-not-to class in public relations and stewardship of the entertainment industry's most prestigious award.

After breaking with Hart, the Academy should have quickly moved on and laid out a plan for what would follow. Instead, they left a vacuum that was filled by prognosticators, pundits, and Hart himself, who couldn't exactly go radio silent given that he's promoting a movie, "The Upside," which opens Friday.

In the most absurd sequence of events, the Academy allowed Ellen DeGeneres to insert herself into the breach, playing Oscar producer by publicly lobbying for Hart to be reinstated, and saying that organizers were open to the prospect.

Again, one can argue about whether breaking with Hart was the right move. But even if he was the best option for hosting the show, he certainly wasn't the only viable candidate, although that impression took hold the longer the situation dragged out without a resolution.

It's hard to completely understand the Academy's paralysis, except perhaps that after last year's ratings swoon, there are too many cooks in the kitchen. That includes ABC, which has reportedly offered several suggestions and potential "fixes" after last year's record-low ratings, which -- while precipitous -- need to be viewed in the context of an overall decline in award-show tune-in that a host, any host, would be hard-pressed to remedy.

According to Variety, a host-free Oscars is now looking likely, barring the enlistment of an A-list name at what amounts to the last minute.

Operating without a single host, incidentally, seems like a perfectly reasonable approach. If you think about it, the Golden Globes did essentially that with the unlikely pairing of Andy Samberg and Sandra Oh, who largely disappeared -- as hosts often do -- after opening the festivities, which relied on acceptance speeches and tributes to carry the night.

Eliminating some of the obligatory host shtick would also assist in producing a shorter telecast -- one closer to three hours than four -- which was among ABC's goals in an effort to improve the ratings. With the awards scheduled for Feb. 24, delaying much longer on any of these decisions becomes increasingly problematic, and will only serve to make the choices made appear more desperate.

Ultimately, there's no polite way to say it: The Oscars have taken the industry's biggest, most glamorous event -- Hollywood's designated night to shine -- and managed to make themselves look like a teenager without a date a few weeks before prom.