Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Are the Oscars dead?

When I worked on MASH, each year we had our designated “Oscar” episode.  That was our worst show of the year.  MASH was on Monday nights, and at the time, so were the Oscars.  And even though we regularly got 30 million viewers a week, we felt we could hide it because the Oscars would obliterate us.   The point is, the Oscars were a huge deal, a Super Bowl-size deal.  The World Series got big numbers but didn’t come close.  I would say probably 50 million viewers for the Academy Awards was not a bad estimate.

Ah, but that was then.

Award shows have waned in popularity.  For the Oscars, they stopped awarding popular films (due to the fact that the popular films were all comic book movies, franchises, and “tent poles”), so the audience had no rooting interest.  Most people don’t see the movies that are nominated.  There aren’t the big stars anymore the way there used to be.  And it’s un-PC to make fun of dresses, appearance, anything.  So there goes that fun snark element of watching.  

And now you have the pandemic.

This year the Golden Globes were down 62%, the SAG Awards down 52% (like I said, no larger-than-life Hollywood stars), and the Grammys dropped by 51%.

Good luck this Sunday to the Oscars.

Last year (do you even remember who won?) was the lowest watched Oscarcast ever.  It averaged only 23.6 million viewers.  Our MASH “Oscar show” probably beat that.  And if the pattern holds, and the Oscars drop another 50% — Jesus, JEOPARDY would whip its ass.  

I believe the era of high rated award shows has come to an end.   Film studios are way more concerned with feeding their streaming services than Cineplexes.  Due to the pandemic, of the few people who have seen the contenders I bet 95% of them have watched them on TV or a device.  They had no choice.

Some claim that if a movie is primarily viewed on television it should qualify for an Emmy not an Oscar.  Yeah, except who makes the quality films, and small relationship films, and romantic comedies that used to be a mainstay at your local theater?  Netflix, HBO, streaming divisions of major conglomerates.  Warner Brothers is not going to bankroll romantic comedies.  Not today.  They’ll make WONDER WOMAN sequels until Gal Gadot looks stupid in the suit.  

So for real movie fans, thank God for Netflix and other streamers.  Regardless of where they show them, they’re the only ones making interesting, small, edgy, thoughtful movies.   Are they worth “Oscars?”  The bigger question is: “Will Oscars even mean anything?”   If only 12 million people watch I’m not so sure. 


Steve said...

I sort of wonder if we will see an unexpected bounce back this year for veiwership, because just about all the films that were nominated are availible to stream at home-- quite a few of them without paying an additional fee. It's been many years since the last time I'd seen the majority of the best picture nominees, so that's a bit more investment I have.

The again, I'm under 50 so I don't have cable and couldn't watch the Oscars if I wanted to.

Rob Greenberg said...

Not to mention the bone-headed decision to stop using hosts. While it was done out of necessity in 2019, it has now become a 'choice.' Why? Billy Crystal himself made the show an event, whether we had a rooting interest in the show itself. Last year was simply unwatchable.

DougG. said...

This is how far the Oscars have fallen. As you noted in your post, the Oscars averaged 23.6 million viewers last year. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the FOX NFL Sunday doubleheader games (4:25 PM Eastern Time/1:25 PM Pacific Time) averaged 23.2 million viewers and that's a 5% drop from the 2019 season.

Those are just 9 regular season NFL games and they've nearly eclipsed the single event Oscars. [For those not familiar with NFL scheduling and unsure how I came up with the 9 Sundays, CBS & FOX each get 8 Sundays in which they have a 4:25 Eastern/1:25 Pacific game exclusively and on the last Sunday of the regular season, both networks have games in the same late time slot.]

forg/jecoup said...

Searchlight, a24, Neon and Sony Pictures Classic deserve credit too, it's not just Netflix and streaming that fave smaller quality films a chance.

Jeff said...

One of the reasons for the steady decline of these shows over the years is due to accessibility of the stars. With the internet and social media we are sick of most of these people. It used to be you would only see these stars on special occasions, ie award shows. DiCaprio is about the only one left who keeps some kind of air of mystery about himself.

J. Allison said...

Talked about this with my in-laws yesterday. They are die-hard moviegoers who love the Oscars and even they don't care this year. Good points in your post, Ken, about how the intersection of award-worthy movies and popular movies has dwindled to near-zero. Once upon a time movies like Lawrence of Arabia got made and were a big hit! No longer.

Random other thought: have you watched Kim's Convenience? Canadian sitcom you can find on Netflix and YouTube. Not revolutionary, but well-written, well-acted, and funny. I'd be interested in your take on it.

Anthony said...

I’m 34 and still have cable. I don’t think cord cutting is as prevalent as you think it is.

greg m said...

There is no line between movies and TV now. The pandemic only sped up the eventual demise of that imagined boundary. The word "film" is no longer relevant either, both because actual film is rarely used, but also because the audience doesn't know the difference or care. Many people watch their phone. Want to see "stars"? just look at social media every day. Award shows area weird sideshow that only exist for our thirst for entertainment; which can now be satisfied instantly at any time.

Therefore, interest in the oscars--film, bigscreens, the "stars" will seem ridiculous to the next generation. The emmys and oscars can't continue to be separate unless they emphasize who their voters are, like the Golden Globes does. SAG seems legit (to my ignorance), not so much a campaign; so it might last to those who care about honoring the best.

I don't know what my point is, but I predict award shows are going the way of the cineplex, which follows other past media giants like radio, record sales, drive in movies, circuses and vaudeville. Its not a tragedy, just changing times.

Anonymous said...

Last 10 best picture winners:

Green Book
The Shape of Water
12 Years A Slave

Best picture winners for the '70s

The French Connection
The Godfather
The Sting
The Godfather Part 2
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Annie Hall
The Deer Hunter
Kramer vs Kramer

So one list has films still being mentioned 45 years later and the other has films I've not heard anybody speak about.........ever.

Philly Cinephile said...

Do you think the Internet and social media have contributed to the declining viewership, in the sense that these platforms have made celebrities far more accessible than ever? Back in the day, part of the fun of the Oscars was they offered the rare opportunity to see the major stars of the day ON TELEVISION! FOR FREE! Where's the excitement in seeing some second-tier actor on broadcast TV when you can see his Twitter feed, Instagram posts, Farcebook (I mistyped and was going to correct this, but decided not to...) page, and whatever the hell?

Also, there's no suspense surrounding the Oscars anymore. There are several precursor awards and endless media analysis of the candidates' odds of winning, so that the winners are usually foregone conclusions. And the winners can be found online, along with the "highlights" of the show, so why bother to sit through a bloated production when you can pick out the best bits?

Tim W. said...

I used to watch the Academy Awards religiously (as an atheist, it was about the only thing I did religiously), and saw almost all the nominated films. I’m not even sure the last time I watched even a few minutes of them, and haven’t heard of most of them this year.

tavm said...

I'm guessing the Oscars started steadily declining in popularity starting in 1975, when among the Best Picture nominees were The Towering Inferno, one of the most popular movies from the previous year, and The Godfather, Part II, a sequel to what was then the highest grossing movie of all time that won in this category but didn't do as wall financially but still won anyway. The following year, Jaws lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) lost to Annie Hall and there wouldn't be any Most Popular Movie of the Year win Best least until Titanic but then none after that...

Anonymous said...

Forget the 1970's. These were the Best Picture nominees in one year (1940 for 1939 films). there are another 10 films that might have been nominated we still know today.

Gone with the Wind
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Wuthering Heights
Goodbye, Mr. Chips
Love Affair
The Wizard of Oz
Of Mice and Men
Dark Victory

WB Jax said...

With the way things are going the whole of idea of singling out “best” or “most outstanding” will likely become outmoded. There was a time when kids, say in a Play Day event, would be awarded straightforward blue, red, yellow ribbons for first, second, third place...and NO ONE had a problem with this. That’s all changed in the era of the participation trophy...and it’s where I can see industry awards heading.

Gary said...

I'm wondering if the writer, director, etc. Of your "Oscar" episode of MASH knew it was considered the worst episode of the year? Seems like there could be some hurt feelings created...

Anonymous said...

The Oscars were slowly chipping away even when Billy Crystal was hosting, because his shtick was to lampoon the very pomposity and ersatz glitz of the ceremony. No one ever thought the broadcasts were good, no matter how big stars were, and the highlights were the flubs and the ridiculousness that people like Ken pointed out. Ken's worn out from the strain, D. Mc Ewan mentioned he was tired of the sameness after years of reviewing it as well.

Greg M said it very well, it's time. They shoot horses, don't they? Current theatrical movies are hard to distinguish from TV movies in many ways nowadays, perhaps by design because of how they are repurposed.

And last year, we had a blockbuster summer with no blockbusters. No one really cared. Movies are nice, stars are nice, but they don't have the inflated prominence that they were getting, with more and more intensity. Hollywood saw that the world could do fine without it. Pretty intereting.

The Oscars won't be mentioning that--instead there might be another one of those "acting is the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." In view of all the dead and permanently affected by COVID, all those families and friends, just how does that statement hold up now?

That's why I can't stand watching anymore.

Daniel said...

Here goes my annual suggestion that Dave Thomas host the Oscars "as" Bob Hope.

JessyS said...

To Doug G.

A much better comparison between the NFL and the Oscars would be the Sunday night game. The reason is because the game is exclusive to NBC. Heck, we can compare Oscar ratings to both Monday night and Thursday night football. The reason is because while 23.6 million pairs of eyeballs might be on the doubleheader game, there are eyeballs on another other game on CBS/FOX viewed by about 25% of the nation (coverage.)

Ere I Saw Elba said...

Being that we're stuck in a cultural crapheap of superhero movies and other CGI junk, I don't know if the Oscars can ever get their credibility back anytime soon. I don't know if network television is going to come back for that matter. Top 40 radio? Gave up on that over 30 years ago.

I say this as someone who grew up with and miss these forms of media. But shit, I haven't watched anything except selected YouTube and PBS for probably 15 years, and while good music is still out there, it's harder to find.

I'm optimistic that there will always be an audience for quality popular entertainment. I just don't know where it's going to come from.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think a big part of the declining viewership is the changes in the show itself. As Rob Greenburg says, no hosts. Worse than that, I think, has been the increased "corporatization" and blandness. Too many presenters that each have to be introduced - in pairs, as if you need two people to read lame jokes and open an envelope. Everyone dresses tastefully enough that it's hard to make fun. No one sends a stand-in to make a political speech. William Goldman used to say the ceremony was too short because it robbed people of their chance to really say something in such a great moment in their lives - but also that they should post the results of the voting to give people stuff to argue about. Not sure about the former, since stars have access to Twitter and press interviews, but the latter would help.


Call Me Mike said...

Cutting out hosts is what really killed it for me. I mean, even if I didn't care anything about the very important epic historical drama about a Black mentally disabled gangster who taught J. Edgar Hoover how to love again, I could still usually look forward to the comedian hosting. But if I can't watch that person crack wise and make a bunch of Hollywood stiffs uncomfortable, what's the point in watching? The music acts that go on forever?

DBenson said...

I want to know more about the process of picking the season's "worst" MASH episode to sacrifice. I'm guessing it was more a matter of "least strong", but whatever.

A showrunner decision? Was there actor and/or writer input, welcome or otherwise? Was this something decided in the script stage, or did you look at a finished episode and think, "Oscar night"?

On that subject, who controlled the order episodes are shown and which ones were rerun during the summer? This being the era where there'd be 30+ new episodes per season.

Fed by the muse said...

To Anonymous -

Yes, it seems that “best” has given way to “flavor of the season.” To be honest, I can’t recall the last great feature film I’ve seen though I admired “Darkest Hour” (despite the artistic license taken with Churchill’s story). Big, period epic, a story told only the way the British can do it.

Roger Owen Green said...

I saw no Best Picture noms except on some service. It's just not the same.

But to another point, being "famous" isn't what it used to be either. Somebody's a TikTok star or has a following on YouTube. I know I'm getting old - even older than Levine! - but I glance at the red carpet and say, as often as not, who is that?

WB Jax said...

When they stopped using Jerry Goldsmith’s fanfare to preface televised nominations announcements it was, IMHO, all downhill from there.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, re: "forget the 70s", nice list, well done, but I would have to disagree. Here are some of the other nominated movies from the '70s that lost to that list of winners I posted:

MASH, The Last Picture Show, Deliverance, Cabaret, American Graffiti, The Exorcist, Chinatown, Jaws, All The Presidents Men, Network, The Good-bye Girl, Norma Rae, Apocolypts Now, Coming Home, Midnight Express. Come back in and rebut, we can have a friendly debate.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I for one would love to see a list of your "'Oscar' episodes." I'm curious to see what you think are the "worst" shows versus what I consider the worst "M*A*S*Hes." (Or is the plural of "M*A*S*H" "M*A*S*Hi?")
Now, rather than waste an episode the networks show reruns.

Even when I was still active in show business I rarely saw a movie in a theater. Cost was a big factor. Back then the price of tickets had already risen to the point that going to the movies was a luxury. Besides, I would get SAG screeners so that I could see the nominated films. i.e. For the SAG Awards, not the Oscars.

And I've said this before. There is little reason to see a gabfest or some small film in a theater. There are very few movies that really are suited for the big screen except for, unfortunately, the superhero/sci fi extravaganzas.


Mibbitmaker said...

Even before the downfall of awards shows and the rise of social media, there were places to see the stars on a regular basis: TV talk shows. Maybe not all in one place, but Monday-Friday on the same TV set as the Oscars, etc. Why wait for annual self-congrats fests when you can always see your favorite stars talking to Johnny, Merv, Mike, Joey, Dick, Dave, Conan, Jay, Arsenio, Regis, Kathie Lee, Kelly, Michael, Ryan, Craig, Craig, Jimmy, Jimmy, James, Seth, Stephen, Ellen, Wendy, Kelly, Drew...

Call Me Mike said...

@Mike Blooodworth

Well, I would argue there are two entire genres that are perfect for the theater-going experience of seeing them with a crowd: comedy and horror, and, when well done, can be just as effective on a small budget as a large one. Unfortunately though, Hollywood has mostly given up on good, intelligent feature films in those genres.

sanford said...

For the person who doesn't have cable. The show is on ABC. You don't need cable for that. I would cut the chord, but I think I would end up paying just as much for streaming networks. There is always at least one good thing. We have Showtime and HBO. There is more to watch but there have been some good series on Showtime and movies so we keep it. My son has You Tube TV. It is OK but I hate the guide on there.

ventucky said...

Nomadland, a movie I quit after 40 minutes because it was unwatchable. Yet it is the "favortie". Once I watched a 64 year old woman take a dump in a bucket in her van, I realized this movie is not entertainment, it is "art". Perfect example of how the pandemic has screwed up movie making. So little being made, that avant garbage like Nomadland are considered great. Award shows are lame. Always have been.

Anonymous said...

don't get me wrong the 1970's were great - probably the best overall decade - and every one of those movies deserves the plaudits you gave (except for one or two -Goodbye Girl -yech) and there were plenty of other great ones - Carrie, Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Conversation, Parallax View and plenty of small gems. I would never derogate your choices, but I'm talking about one year.
Ten pictures any of which could have won, two icons Wizard and GWTW, Donat's performance in Chips, and here are some of the ones that didn't get nominated:
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Beau Geste
Destry Rides Again
Drums along the Mohawk
Dodge City
Gunga Din
Golden Boy
Hound of the Baskervilles
Jamaica Inn
Million Dollar Legs
Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Roaring Twenties
Rules of the Game
Son of Franknstein
Union Pacific
Young Mr. Lincoln
The Women
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

I mean that is one year. You could make the case the 1930's were the greatest decade on the basis of this year alone. This year stacks up against the ten years of the 1970's quite well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous, I knew when I listed "The Good-Bye Girl" you were going to call me out on that one LOL. Yeah, it was lightweight stuff I agree, but I had to include it because Richard Dreyfuss owned the last half of the '70s (Close Encounters, Good-bye, Jaws, and earlier American Graffiti). Maybe you are right, the movies must have been pretty good back then if even Citizen Kane couldn't win the best picture in '41. I noticed you had a Sherlock Holmes listed, who do you think was the best actor to play that part?

Anonymous said...

Its really hard for me not to go with Basil Rathbone. Like Connery,Bond. There are legitimate arguments for others, but when push comes to shove, he is who you think about and compare all others to.
Peter Cushing was good, as was Jeremy Brett (he was on the other night on My Fair Lady)
Downey is a great actor but this was nt' my thing.

What do you think?

Richard Dreyfuss - very good actor before he started chewing the scenery. Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Big Fix as well.
He was good in his Beverly Hills comeback.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

I was curious about the "M*A*S*H" sacrificial episodes, too, so I did some checking with, which has a page dedicated to "M*A*S*H" broadcast history, including spring/summer reruns,

"M*A*S*H" aired on Monday nights on CBS from January 1978 to September 1983.

It first competed against the Academy Awards on April 3, 1978 (Best Picture winner-"Annie Hall"). The "M*A*S*H episode aired that night was a rerun of "The Light That Failed," which deals with a light bulb shortage and the missing final page of a mystery novel.

Here's the rest of the Oscar-"M*A*S*H" matchups, again according to

--April 9, 1979 (BP: "The Deer Hunter")
"M*A*S*H" was pre-emepted by "The White Shadow."

--April 14, 1980 (BP: "Kramer vs Kramer") "M*A*S*H episode: a rerun of "Are You Now, Margaret?", in which a Congressional aide on a Communist hunt investigates Margaret.

March 31, 1981: (BP:"Ordinary People") A Tuesday. The Oscars were delayed one day after the assassination attempt on President Reagan.

March 29, 1982: (BP: "Chariots of Fire) "M*A*S*H" is preempted by the NCAA men's basketball championship game.

April 11, 1983: (BP: "Gandhi") "M*A*S*H." which aired its final first-run episode Feb. 28, didn't air this night.

benson said...

I'm sorry, but here in flyover land, the problem is people fed up with the sanctimonious attitude of pretty much every presenter and winner.

Billy Crystal and previous hosts would poke fun at these people, but currently these people are in control and it's three, no, four hours of how showbidness people are the only reason civilization is still alive. And then, in the past few decade, add in polarizing political statements, and you have an unwatchable boring mess.

To that point, look at current pop music, songs are two minutes long again, just like the 60's. Attention spans are shorter than ever. And you expect anyone to have the patience to listen to some technician read a list of thank yous, that, again, no one has any idea of who they are.

That, and other than movie buffs, no one has seen most if not all these movies.

Dave H said...

Most of the movies that make tons of money at the box office do not get nominated and are not really represented at the show other than Tarantino movies. His movies make lots of money and appeal to The Oscars. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood made almost 400 million. But usually the movies that get lots of nominations are not box office hits. Critics loved them but they made 10 million at the box office. So if you have not watched a lot of the movies why would you watch?? How many have seen the Frances Mcdormand movie thats getting oscar hype? Not many but King Kong vs Godzilla has been huge.

Another thing is in the Last Four years Trump Lovers have a real hate on for celebs (other than Chachi and Jon Voight) and Hollywood. So a huge part of America will not not watch for that reason alone.

William C Bonner said...

When the best picture nominee count increased in number, I lost significant interest.

This year, when I've not seen a movie in a theater in a year, I barely know it's happening.

DanMnz said...

Let's not forget, near ZERO promotion for these shows nowadays.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Thank you.

John (formerly) in NE Ohio said...

My Oscar thoughts:
1. It is too long, and if anything interesting happens, it will be on YT.
2. It has been years since I have seen many of the movies. And after the 70s, most of the films that won (and a majority of the nominated films) are not my cup of tea. I saw Chariots of Fire, and Out of Africa, and the English Patient, Titanic, many others; I can respect the art and craftsmanship of those movies, but the only reason I watched them to begin with was peer pressure and/or ignorance.
3. Movies are too expensive and inconvenient to go see. This being said as someone who always LIKED to go to the movies. There are very few movies that are worth battling and paying for to see IN the theater - and those are the special effects/action movies. Yes, the atmosphere of a comedy or a horror in the theater was great back when people would STFU during the movie, but those days are gone.
Long way of saying I just don't care anymore.
Also, it used to be Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, (Tonys, but lets be honest, I didn't know what they were then). It was a unique experience. Kind of like college basketball - when there were only a couple games on a week, I watched religiously, no matter who was playing. March madness - every game. The first year or two that it was everywhere all the time, I watched a lot. Now, I don't worry about it, there will be another game on in 20 minutes.

Tom said...

What makes you think Gal Gadot will ever look stupid in the WW suit? Personally, I don't see that happening....

JS said...

The movie I enjoyed most this year was Godzilla vs. Kong. It will never be nominated for anything but it's a pandemic. I'm tired and depressed enough. I don't want to watch Nomadland. I want to watch a completely ridiculous movie with really good actors getting crappy lines and monsters fighting it out. Nothing wrong with some goofy escapism for a few hours.

Brian said...

JS, you hit the nail on the head. We need escapism more than ever right now! Who needs heavy drama when the world has more than enough of that at the moment?

Dave H said...

Another problem with the Oscars is way too many awards given out to people we don't know. They will start with a popular award and then there will be over a hour of awards for best art direction, best sound editing, best costume design. No disrespect to those people because they contribute to a great film but the average viewer does not care so they will likely change the channel.

Anonymous said...

While viewership for a given award show has declined, there is a proliferation of new awards. How many country music awards are there? The glut of awards has diminished their value just like the TV landscape

tavm said...

I watched Best Picture Oscar winner An American in Paris earlier this week and two things came to mind while doing so: 1)Leslie Caron is the only adult member of the cast still alive as of this writing and 2)Something like this can never be made now...

Greg Ehrbar said...

I agree that escapism is what we need and messages are bogging down even the movies that least need them or already have messages inherent.

That's why I'm looking forward to see Faye Dunaway to award Best Picture to "SCOOB!"

Necco said...

I am puzzled. I see DOZENS of blogs continue to write humorous, snarky columns on the Oscars each year. "PC" and "woke" (the latter becoming a Far Right chant, so I avoid it) don't seem to be stopping anything. If you're actually reading anonymous responses to your review column, then yes, it might bother you a bit. All you have to do, is read the comments at the bottom of any YouTube video, and you will be equally appalled.

The Internet has a small percentage of trolls who disproportionately populate thousands of sites. Trump, their lord and master, opened the floodgates even wider. They live to be nasty.

Deadline Hollywood doesn't seem to care that they have allowed the far right to take over their comments section. It is obscene. I guess ad-clicks matter more to them than professional interaction. I used to go on there to chat with fellow production folks (yes, even during the Nikki Finke years). NOW, the comments are screeching, foaming, and hateful. It's weird.

Unknown said...

You must be right, because otherwise there would be no cable anymore... but literally the only people I know who still have it are boomers and a couple big sports fans.

Steve said...

That anon was me :)

James Van Hise said...

Billy Crystal used to be funny but the last time he hosted the Oscars he did a blackface routine about Sammy Davis Jr. First, why they didn't forbid the blackface I don't know. Second, most people don't even remember who Sammy Davis Jr. was. He was a movie & TV star 50 years ago, faded from the limelight and died broke due to bad business decisions.

MikeKPa. said...

You pretty much nailed the reasons on the head -- too many awards shows, stars aren't stars anymore, and the self-congratulatory, pontificating, political speeches. Cut it to 2 hours and get rid of all the fill. For the first time, I didn't watch. I just checked online during commercials of shows I was watching for updates.