Quick—name the film that won Best Picture of 2017 (and don’t look it up).
Had to look it up, didn’t you?
Hollywood stages the Academy Awards. America yawns. Again.
I was going to title this post “The Diminishing Relevance of the Oscars,” then I wondered: is it really the award itself, or the ceremony? Winning an Oscar is still a big deal and a badge of prestige for the people who receive them, and they do help a film’s box office.
It didn’t come as a shock to me that the ratings for the 2020 Academy Awards broadcast were down; they’ve been steadily declining (as have other major awards shows) every year except for last year, and I attribute that to the Black Panther effect. What did shock me was how much they were down: a whopping 20 percent.
I haven’t watched the Oscar broadcast in several years, and even before that I was just tuning in for the last half hour or so when the major awards are given. I think the last Oscars I watched start to finish was the 2010 program, when “Precious” was nominated. I’ve even stopped caring about the red carpet fashions.
Scheduling the show earlier than ever certainly didn’t help. I don’t think most people even knew it was on. I remember when the Oscars used to be held in springtime. Now they overlap with the Westminster Kennel Club show and Fashion Week, to the displeasure of many designers who pulled out of that event. Most of the American TV viewing public doesn’t expect to be—nor do they particularly want to be—watching the Oscars the weekend after the Super Bowl.
I’m sure there’s some reason having to do with money and studio profits that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences keeps moving it up earlier every year (everything is about money), but the ones who certainly aren’t making money are the program’s advertisers. At what point do they start pushing back?
There are other reasons besides the timing for the shrinking Oscars viewership:
So many awards, so little time
There are now so many movie awards shows—the Globes, SAGs, BAFTAs, Critics’ Choice—clustered together in a short period of time that I think people get awards-show fatigue. (That’s not even counting People’s Choice, BET, MTV Movie Awards, etc.) The Oscar ceremony used to be the must-see awards event for theatrical films. Another thing the plethora of awards has done is erase virtually any suspense or anticipation about which actors might win the Oscar.
No need to watch it in real-time to see the highlights
The Internet now allows us to monitor the winners virtually in real-time without having to sit through the tedious three-hour-plus broadcast, which frees us up to watch something much more entertaining on streaming or cable (without commercials). When you can catch acceptance speeches on YouTube the next morning, why put yourself through that?
It's all about them and not us
Which brings me to the next point: The length and tedium of the show itself. Looking back, I can’t believe I used to suffer through the entire torturous thing every year. Watching on the east coast, it often went well past 11 pm. It’s incredibly self-indulgent, self-congratulatory, and pretentious. Last year the producers had a brilliant idea to move some of the categories that the viewing audience doesn’t care about (sound editing, etc.) off-screen in order to streamline the show, but there was blowback from some big-name celebrities and they nixed it. Too bad. Their viewership will continue to shrink as a result. Which begs the question: Are they televising this show just for themselves, or for us, the movie-going and ticket-buying public? People watch television to be entertained not put to sleep.
On that same note: AMPAS (is that the acronym?), just do away with the montage of dead people already. Either that, or reserve it for only the legends like Kirk Douglas. A few years ago they began including non-famous writers, cameramen, and other behind-the-scenes people the audience doesn’t recognize in the show’s Memorial segment. The problem is it came at the expense of some genuine stars that were omitted. Every year someone is either intentionally or unintentionally left out; this year it was Luke Perry. The Academy probably considers him an unworthy lowly TV actor.
It all seems rigged
Then there’s the taint of bogusness that seems to be associated with some winners. For me, nothing epitomized this more than the year Shakespeare in Love swept the Oscars (does anyone even remember that movie?). Several decades ago, Hollywood studios began overtly and aggressively campaigning for their films and actors to get the award. Few were more cutthroat about this than Harvey Weinstein. Call me naïve, but the Oscar should be something that is genuinely earned by a brilliant performance or achievement, not something that is lobbied for or purchased. It seems the award is often given not to the most worthy recipient but is based more on political correctness, popularity, Hollywood politics or some other factor.
Speaking of politics, these awards shows are increasingly used by the winners as a soapbox for their personal opinions which have nothing to do with the project for which they won the award. Even when I may be in total, 200-percent agreement with the sentiment expressed—like with Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix about the treatment of dairy cows—I still believe an awards acceptance speech is not the proper time or place. (I haven’t seen The Joker, but I don’t think it had anything to do with factory farming?) All of us would like free air time to spout our political views and plug our pet causes.
Bottom line, the Oscars have increasingly become a broadcast that is staged more to please the members of the cloistered Hollywood community than a mass TV viewing audience, which has largely left it behind. With an ever-growing number of entertainment choices (ironically provided by Hollywood itself) on TV and the Internet, the latter group has undergone irreversible changes while the Oscars remain stubbornly stagnated, stuck in the past.
It seems to exist anymore only so the filmmakers can slap "Oscar Winner" on their marketing material in order to make more money.
Maybe they will eventually have to move it to cable like the SAG awards, or pay-per-view, or not even televise it at all. Make it their own private annual shindig. Unless major changes are made, I can’t see the ratings decline reversing any time soon.
The magic is gone.
By the way, the Best Picture of 2017 was The Shape of Water.