Surveying the glittery chaos of Oscar night, ABC took a common approach: Declare victory.
The ratings “skyrocketed,” the network said. So did the social-media responses; this was the biggest entertainment special in two years.
That’s true … sort of. I’d also add that the show was an overall success; sucker-punch aside, it had clever hosts (shown here), strong music and, as usual, a few flaws. But first, those numbers:
The night averaged 16.6 million viewers, ABC said (quoting Nielsen numbers), a 58-percent jump over last year’s 10.4 million. In the hard-to-reach 18-to-49 age group, it had 3.8 million, a 73-percent jump. That makes it No. 1 (sports excluded) for the season. It also drew 22.7 million social-media uses, a 139-percent jump.
All of that is fine, but remember:
— Last year’s telecast was the nadir, with its 10.4 million viewers. This year’s 16.6 looks splendid, if you don’t compare it to 2020 (23.6 million) or 2019 (29.6) … or 1998, when “Titanic” ruled (57.2).
— You can always expect social-media comments if one millionaire assaults another. People feel compelled to say something, if just “Whaaaa?!?”
That moment – Will Smith smacking Chris Rock, who had told a mild joke about Smith’s wife’s bald head – was absurd. So was Smith’s explanation — apparently borrowed from some previous century – that he was “protecting” his wife. (For future reference: Jada Pinkett Smith, a savvy actress and producer, doesn’t need some self-assigned knight to protect her.)
It distracted from many things … including the fact that Smith won an Oscar for his performance in “King Richard.” The movie (which he produced) and the performance were everything that his Oscar-night behavior wasn’t – nuanced, humane and intelligent.
But this also distracted from the big jump in Oscar-show quality. After three awful years with no host, we suddenly had three of them, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall; Schumer’s mini-monolog was especially good.
And after exiling the music to the preview show last year, we had five strong songs. Think of it this way: Super Bowl viewers had to wait until halftime for Beyonce; at the Oscars, we got her right away.
We also got Billie Eilish, albeit without her green hair. (Apparently, all the yellowish-green had been used up in Beyonce’s opening number.) Alongside some overlong speeches and unneeded throwback moments, we got lots of entertainment. And no sucker punch can knock that out.