Billy is back. For the fifth time in his career, but the first since 1993, Billy Crystal will be hosting the Academy Awards telecast. "Once Barry Scheck turned it down, I had a feeling they'd come to me," Crystal quipped in a statement today.

After three consecutive disappointing broadcasts, the producers wanted a bankable host, so they tapped Crystal. "Billy is quick and agile and bright, and he plays the unexpected events [can anyone say Jack Palance?] of the live telecast like a Stradivarius," fawned producer Gilbert Cates. "He's become the standard against which all other hosting performances are measured."

After mah-velous turns from 1990 to '93, Crystal left the Oscar gig to pretenders Whoopi Goldberg and David Letterman. Goldberg got mixed reviews in 1994. Letterman failed to win over critics with his Late Night schtick in 1995--even though he scored the best ratings in 12 years. Goldberg came back to decent reviews last year but decided to quit while ahead.

Everybody loves Crystal, though. So much so that he nabbed an Emmy for his hosting prowess in 1991 and also picked up writing Emmys for the Oscar show in 1991 and 1992.

The actor is already shopping for material. "I'm very excited to be back," Crystal said. "I'd like to invite the Hollywood community to help me write the opening monologue. Send any Oscar jokes to my Website at www.whyistheshowsolong.com."

The statuettes will be doled out on March 24 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and will be televised live by ABC.

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