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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The theme for next month's Academy Awards ceremony appears to be more. There will be double the Best Picture nominees and double the hosts. But Bob Mondello says this is no way to make a long night shorter, so he offers this modest proposal.

BOB MONDELLO: As long as we're having categories with 10 nominees, I know how the Academy can save time, eliminate two acceptance speeches and strike a blow against sexism all in one fell swoop - just make the Oscars gender-neutral. Nobody says Best Director and Best Directress or Best Editor and Best Editress, so why Best Actor and Best Actress?

Combine them and let the Best Performer win. I mean, seriously. Who cares about Colin Firth versus George Clooney when you can pit Sandra Bullock against Jeff Bridges in a brawl of the drawls?

(Soundbite of movie, "The Blind Side")

Ms. SANDRA BULLOCK (Actress): (as Leigh Anne Tuohy) I don't need you all to approve my choices, all right? But I do ask that you respect them.

(Soundbite of movie, "Crazy Heart")

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (as Bad Blake) I'm Bad Blake. When I die, my tombstone will have my real name on it. Until then, I'm just going to stay bad.

MONDELLO: Now, I can just hear the objections to combining categories - men get all the roles, they're higher paid, their pictures have bigger budgets. And let me concede most of that, but note that it's new. I'm guessing the Motion Picture Academy's original logic for separating the acting awards by gender was that if they hadn't, in the 1920s and '30s, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo would have walked off with all the trophies.

Take 1935: It was such a good year for the likes of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Merle Oberon and Claudette Colbert that they had to add a sixth slot in the Best Actress category. The men, meanwhile, couldn't even fill the full slate - only four nominees - and the three who didn't win all came from one picture: "Mutiny on the Bounty."

(Soundbite of movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty")

Mr. CHARLES LAUGHTON (Actor): (As Captain Bligh) You're sending me to my doom, eh? I'll live to see you, all of ya, hanging from the highest yard arm in the British fleet.

MONDELLO: Who knows what they'd have done if the Bounty hadn't sailed until the following year.

Yes, of course, the game has changed since then, but in a way that could actually work against men at Oscar time. Men monopolize blockbusters, which never win acting awards. You want that neutered gold statue these days, you have to play in what used to be called women's pictures, something more touchy-feely.

Besides, acting's not like a shot put competition. Body mass and physical strength don't give men an advantage when it comes to emoting effectively.

I mean, look at this year's supporting actor nominees. No disrespect to Matt Damon's rugby playing or Woody Harrelson's crying, Christopher Plummer's erudite dithering, or the respective killing styles of Stanley Tucci and Christoph Waltz, but not one of those guys would stand a chance if he had to compete with Mo'Nique's ferociously manipulative mom.

(Soundbite of movie, "Precious")

MO'NIQUE (Actress): (as Mary) ...suppose the things she told you I did to her, who's gonna love me, hmm? Who's gonna make me feel good?

MONDELLO: The Academy will almost certainly make Mo'Nique feel good on Oscar night, and that would be no less true if she were competing with the boys.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of song, "The Winner Takes It All")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) The winner takes it all, the losers standing small, beside the victory...

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