LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The theater is new and so is the heightened security. But there will be nostalgic Hollywood touches as well at today's Academy Awards ceremony.
Laura Ziskin, the show's producer, hopes that old-time glamour combined with performers including Sting, Paul McCartney and Cirque du Soleil will hold viewers after last year's lowest-rated Oscars ever.
She knows, however, that it takes more to ensure a memorable evening at the $94 million Kodak Theatre, the lavish new home for the Oscars.
"The show is made or broken by the winners and what they say or do. I can do everything right and if they're not interesting or come with their laundry list of 'thank yous,' then the show will be boring," Ziskin said.
"If they have something to say and are emotional then the show will be great no matter what I do," she said, then added jokingly: "So I'm abdicating all responsibility."
In reality, Ziskin is working mightily to ensure that everyone, overwrought winners included, does their part for a lively evening. At the annual nominees' luncheon she handed out a helpful prop -- silver egg timers set for 45 seconds, the recommended speech duration.
"Forty-five seconds is a long time. You can say 137 words in 45 seconds, and 'I want to thank the academy' is only six words," said Ziskin, the first woman to produce the show solo. (Lili Fini Zanuck produced the 2000 ceremony with husband Richard Zanuck.)
Long shows that creep toward or past midnight on the East Coast can make for viewer boredom and potentially lower ratings. Ziskin may be fighting a trend: the ceremony suffered its lowest ratings ever last year with an average 42.9 million viewers, down 7 percent from 2000.
To spark interest, Ziskin said she's ensuring the show is "jampacked with ... something for everyone. I won't say for sure, but we're on the road to pulling off a couple of big surprises."
Whoopi Goldberg, an Oscar winner for 1990's "Ghost," is making her fourth appearance as host. Her sometimes off-color humor at the 1996 show drew mixed reviews, but Ziskin said she was her first choice and she "really wanted someone who had done it before."
Other experienced Oscar hands include Louis J. Horvitz, directing his sixth consecutive ceremony, and comedian Bruce Vilanch, marking his 13th year as writer of Oscar banter and introductions.
Big names in music are set to perform the nominated songs, including Sting, McCartney, Faith Hill, Enya and Randy Newman.
The eclectic Cirque du Soleil will offer a specially created piece to lead into the visual effects award presentation; the orchestra will be conducted by Oscar-winning composer John Williams.
The presenters' list is as starry as ever with the likes of Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. It also is a bit but more youthful than in the past, which Ziskin hopes will draw a new generation of fans. Among those representing young Hollywood are Josh Hartnett ("Pearl Harbor"), Tobey Maguire (the upcoming "Spider-Man") and actress-singer Jennifer Lopez.
Another new talent -- or at least contender -- is the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. It's only a block away from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where the first Oscars were presented in 1929.
The theater complex has built-in drama. The life-sized stone elephants at one entrance are based on D.W. Griffith's colossal set for his 1916 epic "Intolerance."
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