Hollywood Uplink – March 2008: Oscar Telecast Misses the Mark

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March 2008

        Issue: 17:3

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Oscar Telecast Misses the Mark
by Dick Rolfe, CEO – The Dove Foundation®

The rain wasn’t the only thing that dampened the 80th annual Academy Awards telecast on Sunday, February 24th.  Here are a few observations by the entertainment press.

“This season was no country for network award shows.”
– The Hollywood Reporter

“This year’s ceremony seemed to have an underwhelming feel”
– Associated Press

“It was like a TV show with the hiccups.”
– Washington Post

“It lacked humorous sketches and overstuffed with dreary clips.”
– Billboard

This year’s Academy Awards telecast on ABC took a tumble in the ratings, logging the show’s smallest audience on record, reaching an estimated 32 million viewers. By comparison, the Oscars drew a smaller audience than the premiere episode this season of FOX’s “American Idol.”

Nielsen Media Research says preliminary ratings for this year’s Awards telecast were 20% below last year and 14% lower than the least-watched ceremony ever which was in 2003. The highest-rated Oscar telecast during the past five years was in 2004, when audience favorite “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” won best picture.

This year’s event had other hurdles to overcome; most notably the four-month-old writers’ strike, which ended just 8 days before the big event and cut into preparation time for producers and writers. To his credit, host, Jon Stewart’s banter was a bright spot in an otherwise dreary ceremony. Other highlights were the well-produced musical numbers for the Best Original Song category.

The Academy Awards, like movies themselves, can’t be made in a vacuum. It may seem trite, but you must appeal to the masses in order to gain mass appeal. “It’s so tied in to the best picture nominees,” says Shari Anne Brill, senior vice president of the Carat media buying agency. “The more a movie has mass appeal, the more viewers will tune in.”

Such was not the case this year. Many critics felt the poor showing was mainly due to the nominees. They were a batch of little-seen films with grim themes many of which starred foreign-born actors unfamiliar to the American audience.

But not everyone agrees that the audience is the thing. According to film historian Leonard Maltin, the Academy should not alter its film choices merely to garner big TV ratings. “It’s an awards ceremony that happens to be a TV show, and not the other way around,“ he remarked. “People need to remember that. I say, God bless the Academy for maintaining its standards.”  If Maltin is correct, the Oscar telecast may be better suited to a cable channel like E! [Entertainment] Network instead of taking up 3 hours and 17 minutes on network television.

In spite of the challenges like rain, limited writers’ prep time and poor TV ratings, the celebration went on as scheduled. Those most moved by it – the Hollywood elite – seemed to have a wonderful time enjoying themselves and each other. Maybe next year, they will let us in on the fun by picking movies we know and enjoy.

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