On the most glamorous night of the Hollywood calendar, the focus was not on the actors themselves but on the man who interviews them: Ryan Seacrest. The Oscars came just days after a former personal stylist accused Seacrest of “years of unwanted sexual aggression"; viewers wondered how the network would handle the controversy. E! producers chose to keep Seacrest on air, but so the celebrities chose, too: to ignore him. E!’s red-carpet broadcast ended with Seacrest literally lolling around in a chair on camera, caricaturing his own boredom, pouting at being ignored.
Just days before Seacrest’s most high-profile (and highest-rated) gig of the year, Variety released an investigation in which former E! stylist Suzie Hardy alleged that the host sexually harassed her for years. Hardy says Seacrest ground his erect penis into her, groped her vagina, and smacked her buttocks. Hardy also alleged that when she reported the abuses to the human-resources department at E! in 2013, she was fired.
In response to the Variety report, E! released a statement that they had conducted a three-month investigation into Hardy’s accusations and found “insufficient evidence to support the claims against Seacrest.” Seacrest said, “I don’t want to accuse anyone of not telling the truth but in this case, I have no choice but to again deny the claims against me, remind people that I was recused of any wrongdoing, and put the matter to rest.”
The ugliness broke on Monday. On Tuesday, E! assured that Seacrest would still be hosting. On Wednesday, Hollywood publicists told Page Six that they were planning to have their celebrity clients avoid Seacrest, or just direct them to his female co-host, Giuliana Rancic, instead. “[T]here are so many outlets on that carpet, why risk it? There’s plenty of other places for clients to get the exposure,” one rep said.
On Oscar morning, Hollywood’s industry papers reported that E! was planning to run the red-carpet show with a 30-second delay in the hopes of avoiding any uncomfortable moments where celebrities directly confronted Seacrest about the allegations on live TV. It certainly wouldn’t have been unprecedented: A-listers like Eva Longoria and Sarah Jessica Parker confronted E! hosts at the Golden Globes after E! personality Catt Sadler publicly quit over what she believed to be pay discrimination. E! producers denied the planned delay, but they needn’t have worried either way: Not many people stopped to talk to Seacrest.
In the first hours of the show, early-arriving stars including Tiffany Haddish, Mary J. Blige, Allison Janney, Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Moreno, and Taraji B. Henson were willing to give Seacrest interviews. In a moment that went viral, Henson held the host’s chin and pronounced, “The universe has a way of taking care of the good people.” Some in the Twitter chorus believed her comments to be more damning than calming, though she insisted later that the interaction was “misconstrued.”
Seacrest stood on the carpet itself, in the scrum and shoulder-to-shoulder with no-name reporters and bloggers, as opposed to on a raised platform in a reserved area, as he typically does; just imagine previous years, when celebrities would confab on Seacrest’s steps while coming and going from interviews.
But as the red carpet wore on, E!’s cameras drifted away from the event entirely to rest on Giuliana Rancic, who was stationed at a hotel’s rooftop pool nearby with other E! correspondents and fashion experts in front of a small audience. The group watched from afar and tried to pick out celebs in real time, much the way a viewer at home might.
The list of big-name celebrities who avoided Seacrest but spoke to ABC on camera included Nicole Kidman, Viola Davis, Saoirse Ronan, Greta Gerwig, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Matthew McConaughey, Timothee Chalamet, Jordan Peele, and Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, who attended together and spoke out several times during the night about the Time’s Up movement. Might’ve been awkward had they stopped to chat with Seacrest. Megawatt stars (and previous winners) like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Lupita Nyong’o, Helen Mirren, and Meryl Streep seemed to skip interviews altogether, as the elite are wont to do.
The awkward energy of E! red-carpet broadcast grew and grew—why was Seacrest on the ground? why wasn’t Rancic on the red carpet at all? how were the experts supposed to fill all the dead air time without celebrity interviews?—as the network made the incredibly bizarre choice to lean into its controversy.
With minutes left in the show, the cameras swung to reveal that Seacrest was sitting, bored and sprawled out in a director’s chair, just to the right of Rancic. The joke was that the red-carpet guru himself had been on set the whole time, passively watching the red carpet but not participating.
That’s one way to play it. The network can joke about Seacrest’s discomfort all they want; it’s the celebrities, the very people they rely on for content, who don’t seem so amused.