The red carpet could get burned by an effort to make the Oscar telecast sizzle.

Trying to heighten the drama and boost viewership that fell to an all-time low of 32 million last year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is keeping the names of some celebrity presenters secret, which means they can choose not to walk the gauntlet of photographers, camera crews and reporters outside the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 22.

This story first appeared in the February 6, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Some fashion designers are concerned that fashion’s biggest stage could be deflated if major stars skip the preshow festivities that are broadcast to millions of viewers for at least two hours before the Oscar telecast.

“That is not good news,” said designer Kevan Hall, a red-carpet regular who has received calls from stylists to dress starlets this year. “I prefer to have it when they announce who the presenters are because that way you can do an outreach to the talent and to the stylists. If you don’t know, you are basically just depending upon the agents to contact you.”

David Meister, whose dresses were worn by Diane Lane at last year’s Oscars and by Lane and best supporting actress nominee Viola Davis at this year’s Screen Actors Guild awards, described the strategy to boost TV ratings as a challenge for designers, but cautioned that the impact wouldn’t be clear until after the ABC broadcast.

“The number-one source [of publicity for a gown] is people hearing about it going down the red carpet when they say your name,” he said. “Afterward, they will have pictures of the presenter when they are onstage. You will still get press that way. You might not be getting it live on the red carpet. That [press afterward] is still a big plus.”

Zac Posen was sanguine.

“Media and its viewers are sophisticated today,” he said. “I think it’s a brilliant idea to hold the suspense. It’s show business.”

The new wrinkle is “a different twist on the traditional red carpet…but given the global wire services backstage and the numerous events after the ceremony, there are many opportunities for presenters to be photographed,” said a spokesman for Michael Kors.

The move was “a creative decision producers made in wanting to heighten the level of excitement leading into the show,” said Leslie Unger, an Academy spokeswoman. “The nominees will all walk the red carpet. Some presenters will and some will not.”

The media, however, has been thrown a curveball. Those working the red carpet will be forced to compensate for the diminished star wattage if top presenters abandon their red-carpet strolls.

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