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David Poland

By David Poland

Is There Something Wrong With Oscar?

Bad ratings once again has brought a plethora of reactive, silly pieces about “what’s wrong?”
As you know, I am on a boat, but this morning, it was Old Man Goldstein busy, as he so often does, mistaking his home for a place of importance in the scheme of things. Wrong!
There’s nothing more pathetic than Traditional Media, unable to figure out the current marketplace, explaining to others how the current marketplace should work.
What happened to the ratings? It’s not complicated. The expected acting winners and the ones who won in upsets were all, pretty much, unknown outside of the arthouse world. Juno was the one major box office hit in the group… but as excellent as Ellen Page is, she was the only acting nominee from the film and has not proved to be a “we have to tune in to see what she says” kind of public personality. The f-ing songs nominated from Enchanted… a movie most loved by the already committed Oscar viewers.
But this is the micro view… not very meaningful.
Paradigm shifts in media are most often driven by micro choices, but those choices are based on the macro view.
James Bond has had three major successful transitions in its 40 year (or so) history. From the serious Connery to the charmingly quippy Roger Moore to the Bond-as-many-think-of-him Brosnan to the rough and tumble hard edge of Daniel Craig. Yes, the actor matters. But the bigger idea of what a Bond is defines the change.
But The Academy Awards is NOT a movie. It is television. Deal with it.
And television is, like most media, narrowing. For everyone, except the Super Bowl, which is a four-quadrant event like Christmas, regardless of who is playing the game. Up a little for NY teams… down a little for small market teams. But the machine is much bigger than the game. And if it stops being that, that event too will become marginalized.
So the question can not be, “How can The Oscars be returned to its glory?” That is a disaster in the making.
The questions can only be, “What is it that makes this idea appealing to people?” and “How do we best design a show to fit that appeal?”
The answer is NOT The Rock… with due respect to the delightful scent of what he is cooking. it’ also not loading up the show with every presented under 40 they could scrape up.
None of us know the answer for sure. But my sense is that there are two ways to go… toney or intimate. The Golden Globes was “the intimate choice,” but has gotten less so over time. The toney choice is Steve Martin or the like hosting, cool enough to be smart, dry enough to never let them see him sweat… a show of utter elegance and produced in near black & white.
I kinda would like to see them try that multi-headed host thing again… go cross-generational. I mean, would you like to see up there? Let’s not see a Judd Apatow Oscars. How about Amanda Bynes, Matt Damon, Sean Penn, and Meryl Streep? Or Amy Adams, Steve Carrell, George Clooney, and Kathy Bates? Or Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bruce Willis? Or Ian McKellen, Josh Brolin, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jennifer Garner?
Do the musical numbers as covers… serious covers… but serious names… that can seriously be sold after the show.
Add a category or two, like stunts.
And remember why people watch… to see emotion and glamor and the unexpected from people who they only know through their performances.
Or not.
All I am saying is that it might be more fun for Oscar to feel more like that ballroom at the Hollywood Roosevelt again.
Regardless, the ratings are likely to continue dropping until they reach the next natural plateau. It is the nature of the medium. You can make that plateau a little higher or lower, but you can’t make this show the massive hit it once was again. It is the nature of niche.
And picking apart silly details – which The Academy itself was nervously doing even before the show this year – is not going to change that.

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33 Responses to “Is There Something Wrong With Oscar?”

  1. waterbucket says:

    Where’s the big production numbers and the crazy gowns? You can get the monologue of Jon Stewart every night on Leno and Letterman. You can see those beautiful people in more interesting pictures in the tabloids. People don’t tune in to see who wins. They tune in to be entertained and montage after montage of former winners aren’t really that interesting.

  2. montrealkid says:

    Nice observations on the (yearly) gripe session on the Oscar ratings. I really like the covers idea for Best Song. Imagine the ratings if they had secured someone like Chris Martin from Coldplay to sing “Falling Slowly” and then have the tune available on iTunes immediately after the broadcast.
    I disagree on adding MTV Awards style “Best Stunt” categories as it begins a slippery slope. There are already a plethora of awards shows (MTV, Nickelodean, Teen Choice etc etc) that do that and target their audience better than the Academy ever will. The Oscars will and should always be Hollywood’s classy affair, that, at least for one night elevates the stars in the stratosphere. In an era when the public and private personas of the stars continues to diminish there should be at least one occassion for a Hollywood prom night. Invitation only, of course.

  3. mutinyco says:

    The Academy should renominate “Titanic” every year. Then people would watch.

  4. brack says:

    -I don’t like how they don’t do the Best Supporting Actor (or was it Actress?) as the first award like they used to a few years ago.
    – They need to throw Billy Crystal a lot of money and make him do the Oscars every year. He’s the only one who knows how to work both the crowd and the TV audience. No other recent host even comes close.

  5. Noel Murray says:

    I’m glad someone’s making these points, David. These smug “nobody’s watching” pieces run every year, and none of them does the job that entertainment analysis is supposed to do, which is to put the ratings into a context beyond “previous Oscar telecasts.”
    Consider this: Would anyone argue right now that “nobody’s watching” AMERICAN IDOL? Because The Academy Awards beat AI in last week’s ratings.

  6. Joseph says:

    I agree–they used to have the Supporting categories in the first half hour or so. Then they had the Leading categories at the end. Having them spread out like they have the last few years seems obtuse (though that’s probably due to what I’ve been accustomed to).
    My problem with the old quibble of montages is that I’m sick and tired of watching montages of memorable moments of past award shows while they kill the chances of memorable moments of current winners by playing them off after thirty seconds. Make a couple relevant montages and give the rest of the room to the current winners. Let them stand up there on stage, soak it in, and watch what they make of it, rather than making it feel like a race to thank who they can before the music plays.

  7. Sean Means says:

    Simple solution: Allow commercials for upcoming movies during the Oscar telecast. Turn the Oscars into the moviegoers’ version of the Super Bowl – some want to watch the game, others just want to watch the ads for this summer’s blockbusters.
    The Academy resists this move, saying it would commercialize the Oscars and detract from the previous year’s winners. Bull. If that were the case, then why play on Harrison Ford with the “Indiana Jones” theme or let Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway plug “Get Smart”?

  8. Dr Wally says:

    Good points well made Dave. The main problem as far as i can see is that the Oscar show is concentrating far too much on being slick, professional and fast moving that it is missing the melodrama and big moments that we’ll remember in years to come. They know the words but not the music. This year’s show was not in any way ‘bad’ exactly, just kind of muted. For Pete’s sakes, even Seth and Jonah seemed oddly uncomfortable and stilted during their routine, and given the close-knit camaraderie that exists amongst Clan Apatow, that really is saying something. Thinking back, the last truly jaw-dropping, classic Oscar ‘moment’ was probably Chris Rock’s infamous rant about Jude Law three years ago (from which Law’s career has yet to fully recover). Recent shows seem to have had all the juice leeched out of them.

  9. LYT says:

    Multiple hosts is an unnecessary idea. Jon Stewart barely did much talking beyond the opening monologue as it was.
    Adding a category for stunts would be cool, but let’s subtract some first. I vote for getting rid of the shorts categories, which were valid back when movie-houses showed shorts prior to all features, but now merely exist to throw off Oscar pools. Let’s not pretend any audiences see them except as part of theatrically packaged “nominated shorts” programs — I used to work at a theater that did Oscar-qualifying runs for shorts and we’d be lucky if two people came to a show.
    And if you’re going to award shorts, why not the acting? The effects? Give shorts a separate award show like the technical Oscars.

  10. Berndog says:

    I have to say it. Goldstein is completely right: As long as the Oscar Show is obligated to present awards for make-up, costumes, sound and editing, short films, and short docs the show is going to be long and boring. I don’t care who’s hosting.

  11. teambanzai says:

    What about just getting some new blood behind the scenes? The’ve had the same writers and director for years maybe it’s time to try something new. I have no idea what, except that it definately shouldn’t resemble anything on Mtv just a different take.

  12. Skyblade says:

    If one disposes of the technical categories, one might as well get rid of the Oscars. Without those awards, it isn’t really the Oscars, it’s starfucking.

  13. adorian says:

    Someone told me to watch the infamous Rob Lowe/Snow White production number again. It’s from 1989, I believe. The problem was that it was trying to mix Old Hollywood with New Hollywood. So if you watch the complete number, you start off with Merv Griffen singing “O What a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” as he introduces such old-timers on the stage as Dorothy Lamour, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Vincent Price, Cyd Charisse (those legs!!), and then the thing switches to New Hollywood as Rob and Snow sing and dance to “Proud Mary.” Everything about that number exemplifies what’s wrong with the Oscars and its attempts to bridge Old World and New World. It’s got a lot to offend everybody.
    When they try to honor the past, it looks like stuffed mummies in a museum display are being rolled out. (Remember the horror when the famous Oscar winners of the past had to sit on the stage in a big group while the announcer shouted their names?) And when they try to play up the youthfulness of new Hollywood stars, a lot of people just sit there and wonder “Who is that? Has that person made a movie? Why is she dressed like a hoooor?”
    In the entire history of Oscar next-morning criticizing, has there ever been a show that people said “Oh that was good. It was the right length. The production numbers were good. The right people won.” ? I don’t think so.
    It seems as if there is no way to produce this show so that even a small percentage is happy. It’s like Thanksgiving. You have to do it. Everybody has to eat too much of that unhealthy stuff, and you have to put up with your most obnoxious relatives for a few hours. (And it seems the people who did the least amount of work are the ones who complain the most about how dry the stuffing was and how the candied yams were too sweet.) And then you hope that it won’t be so bad next year and you try to think of ways to make it not so bad, but those plans never seem to pan out.

  14. jeffmcm says:

    This is more of a micro statement, but it’s true that we’re in an era where the biggest Hollywood productions are rarely going to be Best Picture contenders – in the past it seems like it was more common for the four-quadrant megaproductions to be productions of class and Oscar-quality – movies like The Ten Commandments, The Godfather (okay, maybe not all four quadrants), even Titanic, and now all of our biggest productions are strenuously designed to not be Oscar-nominee type films – Transformers, Pirates, Shrek, etc.

  15. hendhogan says:

    to me, it’s a test of time problem. too many people want the best film to be an “important” film. it needs to stand across the ages.
    there is a disconnect in predicting what will stand up and what actually does. sometimes it’s the film that is the most fun that’s best. because that’s the movie that we’ll really remember and talk about years down the line.
    i pseudo propose that there be two awards to the best picture nominees. the regular one and the more of a razzie type called “most prententious.” but pictures in the category have to have the potential to win both.

  16. adorian says:

    from David Letterman:
    “I think it takes a lot of nerve for a show that is 4 1/2 hours long to give out an award for editing.”

  17. Crow T Robot says:

    Celebrity + Popularity + Quality = Oscar.
    That’s the recipe, folks. If this synergy is missing in movies (as it largely was last year), the ceremony’s relevance withers away.
    A)Celebrity alone is Ocean’s 13.
    B)Popularity alone is Transformers.
    C)Quality alone is There Will Be Blood.
    A&B gives you Pirates of The Caribbean.
    B&C gives you Ratatouille
    A&C gives you Michael Clayton
    Of course A,B&C all together gives you The Bourne Ultimatum. And as Sunday showed… a few Oscars too.

  18. Josh Massey says:

    I’ve always wanted to see an Oscar for Best Marketing (or, perhaps more specifically, Best Poster).

  19. IOIOIOI says:

    Montreal Kid; your comment about the STUNT category is straight out of Wichita, KS. It’s your kind of thinking that keeps a rather skilled bunch of people for being rightfully honoured. The Stunt crews put their minds and bodies through the rigors of a production to make the most amazing things happen in a plausible and safety conscious way. If the FX people get an award. The Stunt crews should be rewarded as well for the PRACTICAL ELEMENTS they bring to countless flicks.
    That aside; the academy has to mix up the production team behind the Oscars. They have to bring in new people — or ask the Academy — their ideas about what this show needs to make it more a significant statement about the LAST YEAR OF FILM. Does anyone else realize that they had five Oscar nominess for best pictures that did not even get the “THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT…” package this year? What the hell? This is just endemic to a group of people who had no idea what the hell they were doing this year. The 80th Oscar celebration deserved more than this… and it’s due to the production. You get a better production team.
    You may get a better show. Hell. If you get people with new ideas. You might get a show which could be whacky and brilliant at the same time. Whatever they chose to do. They are screwed because the Academy continually sends out this message to most of this country and their taste of film; “WHO GIVES A SHIT WHAT YOU THINK?” The following will always be a problem until the Academy figures out a way to throw the country a bone.

  20. THX5334 says:

    I’m with IO, it’s a fucking crime the Oscars never honored Stunts. Especially back in the day when they didn’t have CGI to minimize the danger…
    There’s too many reasons to go into what’s wrong with this show and why it’s not working.
    And I’m too sick to get into them now.
    (I’m sure much to the pleasure of many…)

  21. sky_capitan says:

    Billy Crystal isn’t. What has he actually even done in the last ten years? Anything?
    I do like the idea of new movie trailers though. That might help a little.
    But to get me to watch again for sure I think they’d have to blow up the internet for those 3-4 hours. All I did was click refresh on my browser every once in awhile for the update of winners as I watched a few shows like Family Guy and worked on some other things. Didn’t watch a second of it.

  22. Or it could just be that because of the Internet the Academy isn’t the only place to find out what’s good and such. I find myself agreeing much more with certain writers of certain blogs than I do the Academy so if I had no emotional connection to the Oscars I wouldn’t care to watch, either.
    Viewing habits change, it’s just life.

  23. montrealkid says:

    IOIOIOI, I never said I have anything against the people who are stunt actors and I certainly believe they are a valuable contribution to a film. But the only reason the Academy would add such a category is not to honor the hard work of those behind scenes people, but find a reason to show clips of cool shit exploding or flying around to lure in younger/more viewers. In terms of expanding the Academy show audience, it will do very little as MTV already has the market cornered on the innocuous film awards angle (Best Kiss, Best Comedy Duo etc etc).
    But I too wondered what happened to the summaries of the best films throughout the broadcast. I mean, how hard it is to put together a thirty-second from each film? I mean, they certainly were able to slap together as many montages as possible.
    However, the minute the Academy starts bowing to public taste the Oscars will lose all credibility. The Oscars often become a second life for many of the films that win or are nominated (ie. La Vie En Rose is re-opening in my town this Friday thanks to Best Actress win). The Academy does indeed honor popular films choices (Juno, LOTR, Titanic etc etc) but the problem isn’t with the nominees it’s in the exceedingly outdated and overly long awards show.
    And yeah, bring back the best supporting actor/actress awards to the first hour.

  24. adorian says:

    If we add a stunt category, then let’s add four body double categories (to replace the shorts categories): best body double for nudity (male and female), and best body double for sex (male and female). And then we can have bloggers argue vehemently that a nude sex scene belongs in one category, but not the other. The re-enactments of the scenes during production numbers might help increase ratings.

  25. Haggai says:

    Maybe people should look at some real numbers before rushing to cite this or that reason as the gospel truth for why the Oscars ratings were down this year. The best cumulative list I’ve found for comparing ratings by year was in this Tom O’Neil post, on the day of the telecast (so the post didn’t include this year’s telecast):
    He lists the average total of viewers for each Oscars show going back to ’87. Notice that the large majority of the shows had between 40 and 46 million viewers.
    The exceptions were, on the high end, the Forrest Gump year (48 mil) and the Titanic year (55 mil). So big popular winners can increase the ratings, as we all know. The exceptions to the 40-46 million range on the low end were: the Chicago year (33 million), the Crash/Brokeback year (39 million), and, now, this year’s telecast, which has been reported as having averaged 32 million viewers.
    So the two DRAMATICALLY lower rated years were for Chicago, and this year. The Chicago year was most likely down because the ceremonies were on right when the Iraq war had started. It had to have been SOMETHING unusual, which makes that the most likely explanation–why else would the total viewership have gone back up by 10 million over the next two years?
    But what about all the obscure nominees this year? Well, the same could certainly be said of the year that The English Patient won, and neither Million Dollar Baby nor The Aviator were huge hits either (leading to plenty of complaints during the M$B year about “why won’t Hollywood nominate popular movies), but the ratings were pretty stable for those years. Ratings were down a bit when it was Crash vs. Brokeback, but not nearly as down as this year. So it can’t be ENTIRELY because of the nominees–there’s gotta be something else at play.
    A mundane explanation strikes me as the likeliest one: the writers’ strike meant that fewer people have been watching TV, which resulted in decreased promotion on the network. Sure, plenty of people still watched, over 30 million, but isn’t there a decent-sized chunk of the potential audience (maybe 5-10 million) that would say, “Oh, yeah, the Oscars are on, let’s watch that,” but only so long as they’re successfully reminded of it? I think that’s why the ratings went down as much as they did.
    Don’t believe me? Check back next year. Regardless of what does or doesn’t get nominated, I’ll bet the average viewer number is back up to at least the 39-40 million range.

  26. Dave Vernon says:

    You might have a point Dave, I don’t even know. It’s hard for me to still get past your first paragraph. It’s just too annoying. Why is it that you have to trash PG almost every week? He writes his article then you write your attack–jeez….yes, sometimes he deserves the critique…and sometimes he doesn’t. But it just makes it look all very personal. I’ve been saying this for a long time now too. And its not just that you disagree with him but the way you knock him while disagreeing with him. As a fan of your writing Dave…it doesn’t make you look good.

  27. David Poland says:

    1. Does anyone REALLY believe that people who aren’t watching the Oscars would watch it if there were 6 fewer awards?
    This is “fix what I don’t care about” thinking and it always forgets that getting them in the tent is the game, not keeping them there. If you care enough to be there, you’ll wait… and maybe even enjoy it. If you don’t care enough to watch, 45 minutes less show isn’t going to change your tune in thinking.
    This is the same as opening weekend at movies. No one actually knows how they will feel about a movie until they see it… even with critics and text messaging. But if they haven’t decided to see a film a few days before criticism lands, they aren’t likely to go. And if they have decided to go and the critics rip it, they are still likely to go.
    2. I mentioned stunts because the stuntmen have been trying very aggressively to get a category for years, unsuccessfully. I don’t foresee Best Kiss as an Oacar category. But I’d love to see more depth in what they do. Can a 20 second clip really explain why editing is good?
    3. DV – The Patrick thing is much like the old Harry Knowles thing… 10 times a year when I write more than 1000 items a year and people think it is an agenda.
    The truth is, I am on a boat and Patrick was who I read first. Additionally, I do think he is coming to embody, more and more, the Bosley Crowther-ism of mainstream coverage. (I intend to write more extensively on this issue soon.) The only context in which change can be understood in against the old paradigms… and that is what is leading to the illness of the medium.
    Moreover, who am I going to pick on… some kid who thinks they know everything? I don’t kick small children and pets. (This comment will cause me no end of pain from younger journos who assume – often falsely – that I mean them… there is no winning sometimes.) Patrick is a grown up with a real job at a real paper. He rarely requires mention and he rarely gets it. But when he gets it wrong, it is stick-up-the-butt wrong and that makes it more likely for me to discuss it.
    As I have written, I think Patrick is a smart guy and would be well served by being pushed into behaving like a daily writer again and not a sphincter-tight, exclusive-obsessed (while never mentioning the demands publicly) wannabe Winchell.
    The irony is that Patrick is much angrier at me than I ever am at his writing. But as Old School does, he doesn’t show his cards to the public and just fumes at me privately and in professional circles. I consider my position a lot more sporting, regardless if you and many others feel it doesn’t look good.

  28. T. Holly says:

    ok, you’re not fired anymore

  29. Jeffrey Boam's Doctor says:

    Biggest problem with the Oscars is Sid Ganis. Deuce Bigalow, Mr Deeds, Master of Disguise – and you wonder why the show sucks?
    He chose Horvitz to direct again, the go to awards guy – who comes from doing FASHION ROCKS, HIP HOP AWARDS, EMMYS and every award show even MACYS FIREWORKS SPECTACULAR.
    If it feels old and stagnant, then change the direction and get rid of the director. The montage packages were the worst they have ever been. It is impossible to fathom how many images/scenes they have to choose from but the juxtapositions and editing were just lazy and dull.
    Its an old mans show. It feels old. It reeks of old men making decisions. It whiffs of old men trying to guess whats hip. Its sad. And has been sad for sometime.

  30. Filmsnob says:

    I admit I’m taking plesure in the Oscars downfall.
    Its payback for awarding underserving films like Crash!, Fuck Them!

  31. THX5334 says:

    I sure as hell would’ve gotten rid of that Sid Ganis/Price Waterhouse bit. How much time did that eat up that could have gone to speeches?
    It’s not like they haven’t been drilling that into our heads for 80 years, or there isn’t something like the internet to answer the question of voting integrity.
    Get rid of all the montages except the In Memoriam one.

  32. The thing is, it may have been the “80th year” but the montages didn’t even feel special! THey do them every single year so what’s so spectacular about them this year?

  33. Cadavra says:

    It doesn’t matter what they do to try and “fix” it: people will always bitch about the show because they ENJOY bitching about the show! The only reason many people even watch is so they can kvetch about it afterwards! They won’t give that up no matter what, so why even bother changing the show?

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And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

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But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

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