Ryan Seacrest sits at the center of a painstakingly constructed media empire based entirely on his own image as an amiable, harmless, deeply pleasant guy. But now, there have been reported allegations against Seacrest by a former stylist, allegations Seacrest has denied in a statement, citing a workplace investigation: “Ultimately, my name was cleared. I eagerly participated in the investigation in order to demonstrate my innocence because I know my truth, and I believe in due process.”
Still, given the general tone of the conversation around workplace assault and the responsibilities Seacrest bears in general, the best thing, for Seacrest and for his audience, would be to step away from the spotlight. The problem is that he can’t.
Seacrest, who cohosts Live with Kelly Ripa and is the host of the upcoming American Idol, has as his most pressing upcoming commitment the red carpet of the Oscars, where he is the master of ceremonies for the E! network. In the most hospitable of years, Seacrest’s presence amidst a story like this would be odd and uncomfortable but surmountable. But this year, the topic on the red carpet has been sexual assault in Hollywood, a topic that Seacrest now cannot realistically broach without creating a situation that’s more than embarrassing. It’s one in which he, presently embroiled in a scandal, can’t be an impartial interviewer. It does him no good to be on the red carpet but it also does no good to stars who might have something to say about the biggest Hollywood story in a generation or more, or to viewers hoping to soak up what seems to be a new frankness that’s come over the red carpet.
After all, the Oscars red carpet will be the culmination of an extraordinary season in Hollywood. The broadcast of the Golden Globes was an awkward thing; Seacrest and his colleagues at E! seemed ill at ease questioning stars about the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements. At one moment, actor Debra Messing confronted E! host Giuliana Rancic over reported gender-based pay disparity among reporters at the network. It was exhilarating—an opportunity to bust past familiar cant and who-are-you-wearing rhetoric that inveterate carpet-watchers may not have realized they wanted.
Those stars who even want to talk to Seacrest at the Oscars likely wouldn’t even get the chance to make such a moment; his appearances on his daily talk show lately have shown a star even more painstakingly poised than his baseline. Seacrest and cohost Ripa have spent the show’s opening chat talking about just about anything other than the allegations against Seacrest, including, today, a conversation about children walking in on their parents that was no more scandalous than an episode of Match Game. Seacrest’s image at the best of times is effectively neutered—someone whose job it is to refract stars’ light, not someone with the charge and power of a star himself—and he seems in recent days to have aggressively pushed his act further towards Leave It to Beaver territory. When, in a brief aside, Ripa praised Seacrest as an “easy, professional great person” without mentioning the scandal, Seacrest called her “happiness wrapped in chocolate” and kissed her on the head. It was a bit much—the height of the schmooziness people think of when they think “Hollywood,” as opposed to the willingness to speak in clear and easily understood terms that’s characterized the entertainment industry since last fall.
Seacrest’s utter cleanness of image—someone who’s not just relentlessly upbeat but seemingly devoid of impulse entirely—aids his quest to bulldoze through this scandal. If anyone could survive their name coming up during the reckoning it might well be a host with the track record of committed blandness and the current strategy of just pushing past unpleasantness—for better or worse. Still, his presence on the red carpet indicates a painful snap away from honesty and back towards rehearsed, poised behavior that’s the enemy of openness. The revolutionary change that’s overtaken Hollywood has been presupposed on believing women when they speak and, over and above that, listening to them. Blaring past speech with a big smile and a rehearsed list of questions sets an uncomfortable tone in kicking off an Oscar night that I fear may do less in general to address post-Weinstein Hollywood than any savvy audience member or viewer might want. (The Oscars’ reflexive tack in recent years has been to lean on escapism, and host Jimmy Kimmel tends to be strongest on political issues that directly affect him.)
Having Seacrest there forecloses the sort of important conversations that we’re only just starting to have with stars, some of whom we’re only now learning have been through more than we imagined. That may be a loss E!, uncomfortable with this conversation, doesn’t mind—but it’s a missed opportunity for all who love Hollywood, including the stars who make it.