After three straight flubs, the Academy Award telecast (9 p.m. Sunday, March 27, on ABC) will try get it right – at last.
It will have three hosts (shown here) … and music … and fewer on-air categories. It will hope viewers forget the recent years.
In those three years, Oscars were hostless and joyless. Ratings tumbled. The telecast went from 29.6 million viewers in 2019 to 23.6 million in 2020 and 10.4 million last year.
There were plenty of reasons for that crash, including Covid and a batch of films few people had seen. But the no-host, no-fun approach didn’t help.
Now it will have those three hosts – comedians Amy Schumer (left) and Wanda Sykes (center) and actress Regina Hall. It will also trim more than one-third of the categories from the telecast and add an “all-star” rock band. That may not be enough to stop a ratings freefall … part of which was unavoidable.
The Oscars have always done best when viewers had seen the front-runner movies. That peaked in 1998, when 55.2 million viewers saw “Titanic” sweep.
Those were the days when widely popular films dominated the Oscars – from “Braveheart” ($213.2 million box office) to “Forrest Gump” ($678.2 million) to “Titanic” ($2.2 billion). That’s changed lately; last year’s best-picture winner, “Nomadland,” made $39.5 million.
The bad news is that fewer people went to the movies, especially when Covid was peaking. The good news is that more people have seen the nominees elsewhere: Seven of the 10 best-picture nominees are streaming; the others are available by video-on-demand … and some linger in movie theaters.
Still, there’s the matter of making the telecast fun again. That problem began in 2019, when Kevin Hart was set to host. People pointed to homophobic comments he’d made years earlier; he dropped out.
Then, oddly, the show went without a host. It did the same in 2020 and 2021. Humor mostly vanished; eventually, so did music. Last year, the best-song performances were exiled to the preview show. The main telecast had acceptance speeches droning on; there wasn’t even an orchestra to stop them.
This year, a new set of producers finally got permission to give out eight awards before the ABC telecast begins. That includes all three shorts categories (animated, live-action, documentary), plus sound, editing, score, hair-and-makeup and production design; we’ll see only brief bits of the acceptances.
That trims to 15 categories for the show and keeps the telecast from sagging in the mid-section. But will the show use its extra time to entertain us?
We can expect Schumer and Sykes to be fun … but the presenters announced are a mostly mirthless group. We’ll get some music from that all-star band (Travis Barker, Sheila E, Adam Blackstone, Robert Glasper), plus The Samples and a DJ (D-Nice) and an orchestra, with other details pending. Maybe it will be fun … or maybe it will just be more time for winners to thank their agents.