Billy is back!

After a three-year hiatus from hosting the Oscars, Billy Crystal is ready to resume emcee chores for the 76th Annual Academy Awards in February.

Crystal had bowed out in recent years, even suggesting that his days manning the Oscar microphone were done. With Crystal sidelined, Whoopi Goldberg and Steve Martin tried to hold down the fort--but ratings for the Oscarcast have been slipping, sending organizers once again after their go-to guy.

On Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the City Slicker would take the reins for his eighth hosting go-round.

"I can't tell you how happy I am that Billy will be hosting this show," said Joe Roth, producer of this year's show. "He was my first and only choice."

Said Crystal: "When Joe called, I didn't hesitate. He has such a passion for the show I felt I could have a great time doing it again.

"It was either this or run for governor."

Over the past decade, Crystal has become synonymous with Oscar festivities with his good-natured barbs at the movie biz, often hilarious sight gags (like the time he came out on stage on a horse to promote City Slickers or when he was carted out in a Hannibal Lecter mask and straight jacket), and mahvelous movie montages in which he has starring roles in all the nominated films.

Crystal, who last hosted in 2000, has won four Emmys for writing and hosting the Academy Awards. For those keeping score at home, Crystal is second only to the late Bob Hope, who had a whopping 18 appearances as an Oscar host or cohost.

This time out, Crystal will be teaming with old pal Roth, who's taking over producing chores from Gil Cates (the Oscar vet decided to take a breather this year). Roth directed Crystal in the 2001 romantic comedy America's Sweethearts, and was more than complimentary toward the comedian.

"Billy's personality and quick wit are uniquely suited to this 900 pound gorilla of live shows," Roth said. "He's proved he can tame it with style and flair. To me, this was the most important element of the show--the rest of the way suddenly feels very comfortable."

Unlike previous Oscarcasts, which have traditionally taken place on the last Sunday in March, the 2004 edition has been moved up to February 29 as part of a two-year experiment by the Academy and ABC to boost ratings and attempt to tone down the fiercely competitive Oscar campaigns that has stirred controversy in recent years.

Nominations, usually announced around Valentine's Day, will be unveiled January 27. Once again the show will air live from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

The Oscar move has created a domino effect with other major kudocasts.

The 2004 Grammys Awards is officially moving from New York City--where it was held last year to low ratings--back to Los Angeles. The Grammy folks have pushed up the date to February 8 instead of the usual late February date to avoid a clash with the Oscars.

And the organizers for this year's upcoming American Music Awards, which just last week announced its nominations, have decided to shift their black-tie bash from early January to November 16 so it doesn't get lost in the award show shuffle.

Meanwhile, the Golden Globes (January 25), British Academy Awards (February 15) and the Screen Actors Guild Awards (February 22) have also shuffled their calendars.

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