The climax of Sunday’s 89th Academy Awards
on ABC was the most amazing ending in televised awards show history. It was also the biggest mistake in awards show history, by far. But before long, it also will become the most-viewed moment in Oscar history…
…And, before too much longer, one of the most famous moments in TV history, period. It was too huge an error, on too significant an award, broadcast to too overwhelmingly large a global viewing audience.
Fans of live TV love it because anything can happen. Sunday night, it happened.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, presenters selected on the golden anniversary of the release of their 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde, announced the nominees, and Beatty opened the envelope. He delayed reading the winner – seemingly playfully, but he explained afterward – while ABC still was televising the Oscars live – that he actually was confused. He handed the card to Dunaway, who announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner.
Winners flooded the stage and went through their prepared speeches, starting with producer Jordan Horowitz. Then, as the awards show seemed to be winding down, already well past its allotted time, Horowitz returned to center stage and addressed the producers of Moonlight, who were seated a few rows away.
“There’s a mistake,” he said, only minutes after giving his acceptance speech. “Moonlight – you guys won Best Picture…. This is not a joke. Moonlight has won Best Picture.”
The black-tie crowd went crazy. The La La Land folks left the stage, the Moonlight group ascended, but were far too flustered to give any real sort of coherent acceptance speech in response.
Beatty interrupted the acceptance speeches to explain his version of what had happened. The envelope he had opened, he said, had La La Land’s Emma Stone’s name as the winner for Best Actress, which she had just won in the previous award given. Confused, Beatty showed the card to Dunaway, who saw the name La La Land and read it – bestowing upon it the unearned title of Best Picture.
Had any screenwriter written that ending, it would have been thrown out as impossible, and completely unbelievable. Also, since the ending of La La Land concerns a last-second shift of realities that presents an alternate series of events, Sunday’s Oscars provided an ending that, somehow, was as appropriate as it was improbable.
And in the days to come, it’ll become a mythic part of TV history. Even though, if you stayed up past midnight, you saw it happen, for real.