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Comic Crystal steps in to host Oscars...with the Muppets?

COMIC actor Billy Crystal will host the Academy Awards for the ninth time after replacing Eddie Murphy -- and he may be joined onstage by the Muppets.

Crystal (63) will present Hollywood's biggest awards show for the first time since 2004, it was revealed yesterday. The event will be broadcast on February 26 on Walt Disney's ABC channel.

"It's great to have him back," Disney chief executive officer Robert Iger said.

The Oscars night gives studios a chance to promote movies, often with a spoof of the best-picture candidates in the opening segment. Disney releases The Muppets later this month, featuring old favourites Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.

"I wouldn't count the Muppets out," Iger said. "I like the idea of Billy and Miss Piggy or Billy and Kermit on stage."

Murphy (50), withdrew as host this week, after the producer he had been working with, Brett Ratner, quit the show.

Ratner was criticised for making a gay slur and recounting his sexual escapades with actresses. Crystal will be working with Brian Grazer and with Don Mischer,

The academy had turned to Murphy after the audience for last year's show fell 9.1pc. It has also tinkered with the best-picture category, expanding it to 10 films in a bid to include more popular movies.

"Am doing the Oscars so the young woman in the pharmacy will stop asking my name when I pick up my prescriptions," Crystal wrote on his Twitter account. "Looking forward to the show."