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Oscar preview: Chris Rock will be edgy but respect the crowd

Eight-time Oscar host Billy Crystal had a signature move in which he’d seamlessly insert himself into the Best Picture nominees, to brilliant effect.

Imagine if Chris Rock took the stage for the 88th Annual Academy Awards and borrowed a page from Crystal’s book by inserting himself into scenes from “The Martian,” “Room,” “The Big Short,” “The Revenant,” “Brooklyn,” et al.

That would be one way for Rock to address the white elephant in the room — namely the controversy over the Academy nominating all white actors in the four acting categories for the second year in a row.

Or maybe Rock will make a joke saying most of the Academy thought “Straight Outta Compton” was a documentary about where their families went in the 1960s.

Ba-dum-bum.

Variety reports Rock was testing out Oscar jokes the last week at Los Angeles comedy clubs. Rock has been quiet on social media, but he did post a couple of photo teases on Instagram: one with him posing with Kristin Wiig and J.J. Abrams, the other featuring Rock in astronaut gear. (Another Instagram post by Rock was video of an old-time TV on the fritz, and the caption, “See you Sunday. #blackout #oscars.”)

One thing we can count on: Rock won’t hijack the telecast and make it about him. For 25 years, Rock has been arguably the best stand-up comic in the world and he’s never shied away from edgy material — but he’s also a showbiz veteran who respects the room and is friendly with many of the people in the audience who are up for awards tonight. He’s not going to crack wise all over their big night.

Of course Rock will address Hollywood’s diversity problem, and it’ll be an upset if he doesn’t crack a joke or two about Donald J. Trump and/or Bernie Sanders — but then we’ll get on with the evening, and as is the case with every Oscar telecast of the last 30 years, the host will become a glorified traffic cop for the rest of the evening, disappearing for long stretches of time.

What else can we expect tonight? A few Oscar-day predictions for you:

• Nominees have been asked to submit a list of people they’d like to thank in case they win, with those names scrolling across the screen so the winners can actually give a speech instead of reading a laundry list of the agents, managers, producers and lovers who always believed in them. I bet at least 50 percent of the winners will use up much of their time thanking people anyway.

• Somebody you’ve never heard of who wins in a category you don’t care about will make an impassioned speech about a political issue, and will continue to ramble even as the “play-off music” swells.

• Best actor nominee Leonard DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) will be seated near best supporting actress nominee Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”), the better to facilitate a “Titanic” embrace when DiCaprio wins.

• I don’t think “Mad Max: Fury Road” will win best picture, but I could see it winning as many as seven Oscars overall, more than any other film. (It really is one of the greatest action movies ever made.)

• The telecast will be far too long, as the staid Academy stubbornly clings to the same format year after year, i.e., giving nearly as much airtime to the awards for sound mixing and short film (animated) as it allots to mest picture and the acting categories. The show would work so much better if 10 of the less glamorous awards were handed out before the telecast — and then we went live to 14 categories of most interest to the casual viewer.

• Expect the ratings to be higher this year than in 2015, mostly because of the anticipation over Rock’s monologue.

Last year the Oscar telecast averaged 36.6 million viewers, down 18 percent from the 43.7 million viewers from 2014. Headline from Fortune last year: “Oscars TV Ratings Are a Flop.”

Well. It’s all relative.

It’s highly unlikely the Oscars will ever achieve the stratospheric viewership of years gone by — but neither will any virtually any other telecast outside of the Super Bowl.

In 1998 (the year “Titanic” won best picture), more than 55 million viewers watched the Oscars. The highest rated TV series in 1987-88 was “The Cosby Show,” with a 27.8 rating. The highest rated TV series in 2015 was “Monday Night Football” — with a 7.8 rating.

In this age of time-shifting and 200 channels and myriad other entertainment options from Twitter to YouTube to Snapchat, mainstream TV shows are never going to reach the numbers of 20 or even 10 years ago.

Once again this year, the Oscars will be the highest-rated awards show, by a margin of at least 10 million viewers.

Despite the fact we’re going to have to sit through all those categories most people truly don’t care about.