Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lowest Rated Oscars. Ever.

Lowest Rated Oscars. Ever.
By Joal Ryan

The Oscars made history Sunday night. But not the good kind.

The three-hour-plus ABC telecast averaged 32 million viewers, the smallest crowd on record—ever, per Nielsen Media Research estimates.

The show "topped" the 2003 ceremony, which, with 33 million viewers, was Oscar's previous low.

Even worse, if possible, the show was a shadow of its 2007 self, shedding more than 8 million viewers, or one-fifth of its audience, from last year to this. Even in an age where everything is the lowest rated something ever, that's a significant blood loss.

Oscar's main trouble seemed to be female trouble: Based on ratings of the show's prime-time hours, it struck out with the chicks.

Last year, with host Ellen DeGeneres at the helm, the Oscars was up across the board with women viewers.

This year, with male Jon Stewart dealing, the show looked to be down, a lot, in all the major female demographics.

The show's disconnect with its target audience might have stemmed not so much from Stewart, who generally won good reviews, but from the top nominees, a pack of films with nary a female touch, led by Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men, that Stewart himself jokingly described as "psychopathic killer movies."

Another ratings challenge cropped up when Hollywood's biggest night turned into another continent's crowning glory.

For the first time since the 1965 Oscar ceremony, all four acting awards went to residents of Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, the '65 show, honoring the international likes of Zorba the Greek, suffered the ceremony's third smallest audience share of the 1960s.

For whatever reason, this year's Oscars repelled viewers as it went on. What began as a show that averaged 32.3 million viewers in its first half-hour, devolved into a show that averaged 25.4 million in its final half-hour of prime time.

Stewart, who previously presided over the 2006 Oscars, now goes down as the host of two of the three lowest rated Academy Awards in TV history. And in defense of Steve Martin, who hosted the 2003 misfire, that ceremony competed for attention with the start of the Iraq War. Stewart, thusly, stands alone as the lowest-rated host of relatively peaceful Oscar nights.

ABC did its best to turn its frown upside down, noting that Sunday's telecast was far bigger than the rest of this year's crop of low-rated award shows, including NBC's Golden Globes debacle.

The network said the show rated highest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, West Palm Beach, Florida, and Oscar's hometown of Los Angeles.

Stewart's notices were another bright spot. From Britain (the BBC called him "sparkling") to Los Angeles (the L.A. Times found the comic "cool and loose"), and back to Missouri ("Second time's the charm for Stewart," headlined the Kansas City Star), Stewart won over critics.

Unlike the show.

The telecast, both a celebration of the ceremony's 80th anniversary and, as the Hollywood Reporter pointed out, a reminder that Stewart's writing staff was only recently back from the picket lines, was dinged for being clip-heavy.

"This wasn't an Oscars," wrote Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke. "This was a slightly longer version of the Golden Globes announcement."

The Washington Post's Tom Shales said the show went "clip-clip-clipping along." "This is not a good thing," he decided.

Shales chided the telecast for waiting to get to the acting categories, and for waiting to present presenter Miley Cyrus until the unfriendly kid hour of nearly 10 p.m. ET.

Riffing on Oscar's birthday, Time's Richard Corliss said the ceremony "had the tone and pace suitable to an octogenarian's temper."

(Originally published Feb. 25, 2008)

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