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Were low Oscar ratings the fault of Anne Hathaway and James Franco or 'The King's Speech'?

Colinfirth ABC’s Oscar telecast on Sunday was supposed to ride a wave of popular resurgence for awards shows.

But looks like viewers didn’t get that message.

Countering a trend toward higher ratings this year for the Golden Globes, the Grammys and other awards shows, the critically scorned 83rd Academy Awards rounded up just 37.6 million total viewers, slumping 10% compared with last year, according to the Nielsen Co.  

Worse, the Oscars also tumbled in the key category of adults aged 18 to 49, despite the youngest hosting combo in history with actors James Franco (32) and Anne Hathaway (28). The three-hour-plus show delivered an 11.7 rating, for an 11% drop in that advertiser-friendly category.

And then there were the reviews, which mostly ranged from the unimpressed to the downright brutal. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara wrote that the cohosts did everything expected of them but nevertheless “played it safe.” The Hollywood Reporter said it was one of the all-time-worst Oscars telecasts. Commenters on the Times’ Show Tracker site criticized Hathaway as overeager and Franco as too detached.  

“When Billy Crystal showed up onstage, I found myself hoping that the producers had brought him in as an emergency replacement,” ShariAnne Brill, a longtime TV programming and research analyst, said of the hosting combo.

As harsh as much of the reaction was, the show’s numbers actually could have been far worse. This year’s ratings fared better than in 2009, when “Slumdog Milionaire” won (36.3 million), and in 2008, when the best picture prize went to “No Country for Old Men” (32 million).

In fact, while much of the criticism centered on the hosts, analysis has repeatedly shown that Oscar ratings are closely tied to the box-office performances of the best-picture nominees. In 1998, the year the smash hit “Titanic” won, more than 57 million viewers tuned in.

This year’s winner, “The King’s Speech,” a surprise hit starring British actor Colin Firth that has grossed more than $114 million, led a pack of successful-if-not-blockbuster films (“True Grit,” “The Fighter”) that foretold restrained Oscar viewership.  Indeed, one of the few contenders with a huge gross, “Toy Story 3” ($415 million), was an animated film and therefore had no flesh-and-blood stars to root for.

“There was no set-'em-on-fire movie or star up for an Oscar,” said Paul Levinson, a professor and pop culture expert at Fordham University. “ ‘The King’s Speech’ is a superb movie, but it’s not going to be remembered as a movie that changed the course of cinematic history.”

In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has tried various tactics to boost viewership, including expanding the best-picture field and experimenting with hosts ranging from Jon Stewart to Chris Rock.

Sunday’s outing would seem to suggest that no matter who the hosts are, their power to shake up viewing patterns remains fairly limited. Jeffrey McCall, a media professor at DePauw University, argued that viewers are wearying of Hollywood self-congratulation and crude moments such as Melissa Leo’s blurting of an obscenity when winning for supporting actress (the language was bleeped out by ABC).  

“The hosts last night were not that entertaining,” he wrote in an e-mail, “but the show wouldn’t have been saved even by better hosts.”

RELATED:

Oscar ratings slip 7% as critics scorn hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco

— Scott Collins (Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT)

Photo: Colin Firth with his Oscar for "The King's Speech." Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.

 
Comments () | Archives (9)

I've never thought of watching the Oscars because of the hosts; I've always watched it for the movies or actors I might be rooting for. The musical performances also used to be fun, except they've more or less dispensed with that.

At this point, the complaint about the hosts after the show is as cliched and expected as the results of the awards ceremonies themselves. In my view, the Oscars has always been about: 1) the movies, and 2) the actors, never the hosts.

I agree. it's not about the hosts..
i mean, whats with this US obsession over British period films? them monarchy types. BORING! hasnt there been enough british going around already year on year. So, the show can only be as good as the movies they're honouring. British are boring.

People knew The Social Network would not win and I believe that accounted for the drop in viewers. The King's Speech is a good movie but the Academy had given too many awards to the Brits. No way The King's Speech is better than The Social Network, Black Swan, Inception or 127 Hours.

The Academy better wake up and start giving awards to Americans - Johnny Depp, for instance.

No, the ratings are down because it's become a fashion show instead of a movie celebration. Every straight man in America changed the channel.

The Oscars aren't going to gain more fans, by reading the review. One
actor, w/F bomb & another, " I have to Fart". The host isn't that much
towards ratings. The song & dance man is the best nowadays.
Martin Short would be perfect

When ya know who's going to win, in race track parlance:
A solid chalk night.......no blockbuster hit (titanic)

It's about the movies, not the hosts. If Hollywood makes great movies that the public loves, the Oscars will have a large viewership.

Most people dont like the same movies the film community likes. There werent any genuine blockbusters in the Best Picture category. If they wanted a big audience they should nominate Justin Beiber for best something. There was also a Lakers game on. Who cares what the troglodytes get up to? For people who care about film its great; first to watch as many of the films as you can and then to see how they come out in the competition.

The King's Speech was a better movie than The Social Network and has done much better at the box office too. Last year was a movie with the smallest box office ever for a Best Picture winner beating the movie with the biggest box office ever. This year, The King's Speech was a small independent movie that did better box office than the rival big-budget studio film. Bravo!

Neither of them.


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