At the Oscars, a Little Organized Confusion—and a Bruise for PwC

“Organized confusion. That’s all it is.” 

That phrase was a favorite of an old neighbor of my family’s in northern Ohio. The speaker was a West Virginian who had left coal-mining country to work up in a factory town further north. He had earned some hard-luck wisdom, and often delivered his head-shaking assessments of situations in his mountaineer’s drawl.

Tens of millions of TV viewers saw some organized confusion unfold just after midnight Sunday. Unfortunately, it was in the moments that capped one of the entertainment industry’s biggest nights:  the awarding of the Academy Awards, and specifically, the bestowing of the statuette for the much anticipated best picture prize.

Also unfortunately, the venerable accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers—guardians of the Oscars balloting process for 83 years—took one on the chin.

The Guy in the Headset.

A sleepy viewer (the show was running late, per usual) got a hint that things were amiss when a guy with an audio headset headed into the fray of the producers of “La La  Land” and others as they offered words of grateful acceptance for winning (or so they thought) the coveted best picture award.

It appeared that the stage manager in the headset sought out an understandably confused Warren Beatty, who, with his “Bonnie and Clyde” co-star Faye Dunaway, had just opened the envelope—a moment that was followed by long pauses before Beatty, hearing entreaties from Dunaway, read out the title of the musical that garnered so many nominations.

A few minutes later—amid startled looks and more milling—a “La La Land” producer announced that upstart indie film “Moonlight” had in fact won the best picture prize. Major awkward, but graceful.

It appears that a surplus envelope from the segment just before—the presentation of the award for best actress in a leading role (Emma Stone, for “La La Land”)—had been handed to Beatty and Dunaway, and the former simply read the title of the film from the card inside.

The New York Times reported that apparently two envelopes for each award were ready at the curtains on stages left and right, to catch wherever a presenter might approach center stage.

PricewaterhouseCoopers posted the following statement at 12:30 a.m. Monday:

“We sincerely apologize to "Moonlight," "LaLa La Land," Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture.

“The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.

“We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and [Oscars ceremony host] Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation.”
For better or worse, several million people now know what PwC is. A memorable evening, but probably not to be recalled in the way that the Big Four firm would like.  

By Steve Burkholder 

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