| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Australian actor Hugh Jackman was named on Friday as host of February's Oscars in a departure from the tradition of picking U.S. comedians on Hollywood's most prestigious night.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which hands out the world's top film honors, said Jackman, 40, star of the romantic epic "Australia," will host the televised ceremony for the first time.
The actor, who also starred in the three "X-Men" movies and is an award-winning musical theater performer, has hosted Broadway's Tony awards three times and last month was named 2008's "sexiest man alive" by People magazine.
"Hugh Jackman is a consummate entertainer and an internationally renowned movie star," said Laurence Mark and Bill Condon, the new producers of the televised show.
"He also has style, elegance and a sense of occasion. Hugh is the ideal choice to host a celebration of the year's movies -- and to have fun doing it," the pair said in a statement.
Oscar nominations for the best movies and performances of 2008 will be announced in January. The awards will be handed out on February 22 by the Academy at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and will be televised in the United States by the ABC network.
Jackman's choice heralds a new direction for the 81st Oscar ceremony after recent years of falling TV ratings.
Typically, the program has been hosted by U.S. comedians, and in recent years, show organizers have experimented with a variety of hosting styles ranging from political satirist Jon Stewart, to edgy Chris Rock and popular Ellen DeGeneres.
Mark and Condon have axed the famous opening monologue for the February 2009 show, hoping for more spontaneity overall. They said there may be a stronger element of music and dancing than previously.
"We want it to be more of a party and a celebration and a departure from the late-night talk-show format," Mark told Reuters. Mark and Condon have a background in musicals and worked together on the 2006 film hit "Dreamgirls".
Jackman, who can sing and dance, was "genuinely thrilled" at the offer, Mark said, but "he wanted to make sure the format would mesh with his skills."
The February 2008 three-hour plus broadcast, hosted for the second time by Stewart, hit a low 32 million U.S. viewers and entered the record books as the least-watched Oscars ever.
Still, even an audience of that size makes the telecast annually one of the most-watched U.S. TV shows. The broadcast also is televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.
Mark said he and Condon planned to get the telecast under three hours, yet still keep the live presentations of awards and acceptance speeches.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)