Monday, March 06, 2006

Suppose They Had an Oscar Telecast...

...and no one watched. That's got to be the question of the day in the executive suites at ABC, which pays big bucks to televise Hollywood's annual orgy of self-congratulation.

Drudge has the early numbers from Nielsen, and they're nothing to cheer about. According to the number-crunchers, this year's broadcast will be the second least-watched Oscar telecast, ranking only behind the 2003 debacle, when Chicago won best picture, and no one cared--or bothered to tune in. With a 27.1 rating/40 share for this year's broadcast, that means around 45 million Americans watched at least a portion of the Academy Awards. The program will be #1 for the week, but consider this: a recent edition of American Idol--nothing more than an update of Starsearch or Ted Mack's Amateur Hour--attracted upwards of 30 million viewers, with far younger (and supposedly, better) demos than the Oscar broadcast. And Fox pays a lot less to carry American Idol than ABC ponies up for the Academy Awards.

While noting the sagging ratings, the AP story (typically) misses the reason for the declining audience. Simply stated: few Americans cared about the films that Hollywood celebrated as its finest. In other words, those of us in "Flyover Country" or "Jesusland" didn't care if "Crash" edged out "Brokeback Mountain" for best picture, since most of us had never seen the films, nor had any desire to waste $8 on them.

Political Calculations has the numbers; this year's crop of best picture nominees have, collectively, earned a total of $223 million at the box office., making them some of the least popular films ever nominated for that award. Brokeback Mountain, the tale of two gay sheep ranchers (no puns, please) tops the list at $75 million, followed by Crash (which actually won the Oscar) at 53$ million. Rounding out the list were Munich ($46 million), Good Night and Good Luck ($30 million) and Capote ($23 million).

This is the best Hollywood had to offer in 2005 ...a gay cowboy film; a story of unlikeable people whose lives are intersected by a car crash, or the demonization of Israeli agents who tracked down Palestinian terrorists. And, if that wasn't enough, there was also the factually incomplete (and somewhat incorrect) retelling of Edward R. Murrow's confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy, and (finally), the film potrait of a gay writer who was more absored with his own celebrity than his craft. These are "best picture" nominees? Forgive me if I'm underwhelmed.

Meanwhile, a film that many red-staters found far more agreeable (The Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe), won a single Oscar last night, for achievement in make-up. Did I also mention that the film has also grossed almost $300 million since its release last December, or $70 million more than this year's best picture nominees combined?

George Clooney, who was named Best Supporting Actor for his role in Syriana, has reportedly said that he is proud that Hollywood is so out of touch with mainstream America. Fine. Mr. Clooney and the rest of the film colony have every right to make movies that are edgy, daring, outrageous, and guaranteed to tick off everyone between Manhattan and Bel Air. But don't be surprised when most of us don't show up at the theater, or watch the Oscar night love-fest on ABC.

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