Oscars 2011: Joke-Free Hosts? Less Filler? Is Jack Back? Eggs?! Burning Qs Answered!

It’s almost time for the annual conundrum: Many of us love to watch the Academy Awards, but by some accounts, last year’s telecast only ended, oh, about a week ago.

But maybe (he said optimistically) this year’s Oscars ceremony – airing Sunday, February 27, on ABC — can liven things up by tightening things up, bringing back one dissed category, and even hatching a Gaga-like egg in front of millions of viewers.

Bruce Cohen, a producer of the 83rd annual Academy Awards telecast, and Bruce Vilanch, a longtime/Emmy-winning writer for the show, answered TVLine’s burning questions about TV’s biggest night… about movies.

Do This Year’s Oscars Have a Theme? | “We are trying to put our imprint on the show by celebrating a lot of the great moments in Oscar history, and some of people’s favorite films and performances from the past,” Cohen says. In other words, he admits, “It’s a unique and original imprint by stealing lots of other people’s imprints from over the years! So the theme is ‘Great Moments In Film History and Oscar History, Past and Present, All Happening Live On the Kodak Stage February 27.’”

Every Year, Academy Award Execs Talk About Dropping Extraneous Production Numbers… and Yet, Groan, They Persist. Necessary Evil? | “No,” Cohen maintains, “and hopefully we’re not having any extraneous production numbers.” That said, Cohen is jazzed to resurrect a feature dropped from last year’s telecast: live performances of the Best Original Song contenders. “We got very lucky this year because we have four great songs and four great performers — and hopefully we’ve done it an entertaining way that will feel fast yet also very beautiful.” Original performers include Randy Newman (with Toy Story 3’s “We Belong Together”), Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (Tangled’s “I See the Light”), and Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong’s “Coming Home”), while, because of Dido’s unavailability, A.R. Rahman will perform 127 Hours‘ “If I Rise” with Florence from Florence +The Machine. “It should be a great moment,” Cohen promises.

Will Nominees In the Lead Acting Races Still Be Introduced By Friends/Peers? | This year’s Oscarcast is doing away with that time-consuming pleasantry, yet retaining the “personal tribute” aspect by dipping into the show’s past. “In one of our proudest ‘steals,’ we found a way, from a 1970s [Academy Awards telecast], to do that without bringing out all these extra people,” Cohen shares. “We’re using that, baby!”

How Are James Franco and Anne Hathaway Shaping Up as Hosts? | Vilanch, who is used to putting clever words into the mouth of the annual emcee, says this year’s twosome is “wonderful.” “They’re not stand-up comics, so they don’t come out and do joke, joke, joke, but they’re very funny actors with really big personalities, so there’s a different energy.” And since Franco (nominated for 127 Hours) and Hathaway each have winningly hosted Saturday Night Live, “They know how to work live, with short rehearsal time and lots of rewrites — and lots of pressure.”

Speaking of Hosts: Would Ricky Gervais Have Passed Muster At the Oscars? | In a word (or two), hell no. “He’s outrageous and he’s shocking, but he doesn’t really hit funny,” Vilanch opines. “He wouldn’t [work] on the Oscars because he’s not in front of a room full of drunks hoping to get an award from the 83 wine stewards and valet attendants who have voted for them.”

Will Jack Be Back? | Jack Nicholson, Hollywood royalty and the Academy Awards director’s usual go-to guy for reaction shots, has been MIA from recent ceremonies – and could be again. “Most years that Jack comes it’s because he has a reason to be there – he’s nominated more times than any other male actor in history, or he’s supporting a film he was in,” Cohen points out. “Sadly, he doesn’t have that reason this year to attend.” Still, Jack has yet to officially RSVP no.

Will There Be, You Know, Eggs On the Red Carpet? | À la Gaga, “Everyone will be arriving in eggs, and Joan Rivers will hatch them,” Vilanch promises. “It will be like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – the pod people are here!” But seriously, folks…. Between the Grammys and the Super Bowl, “There seems to be a lot of momentum for these iconic shared experiences where the audience gathers around the television,” Cohen says. “We hope to continue that.”