The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Grammys deliver a wake-up call to the Oscars

February 9, 2009 |  5:50 pm

If it wasn't past their bedtime, I sure hope the motion picture academy board were watching the Grammys Sunday night. The Recording Academy (NARAS) didn't just put on a helluva good TV show, but the youthification of the telecast paid off: The ratings were up 10% (according to our story, they were up an even higher 14% with viewers 18 to 49), reversing a longtime trend for both the Grammys and, ahem, the Oscars as well.

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What did the Grammys do right that the motion picture academy could learn from? First off, it was quite consciously more of an entertainment show than an awards show. NARAS may have a hundred-plus Grammy categories, but they only give out a handful of actual awards during their three-hour show, mindful of all the snoozy thank-you speeches we get on Oscar night from people who are brilliant technicians but are total unknowns to anyone who lives outside of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood corridor.

The Grammys also cleverly recruited a host of recognizable Hollywood celebs and used them to introduce musicians they either admired or were pals with, which allowed the Grammys to spotlight the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow (who introduced Radiohead, not her husband's band, Coldplay), Gary Sinise, Kate Beckinsale (who, all goggle-eyed, introduced Paul McCartney) and Jack Black, who showed up on stage with his father-in-law, Charlie Haden, one of the great jazz bassists of all time.

Because they were all such obvious fans, it felt less like a showbiz ploy than a subtle way of saying--see, even big Hollywood types are music geeks too. The film academy should take the hint--if it wants to reach out to a younger audience, why not recruit some well-known musicians and singers, not to mention other pop culture icons, to present a few Oscars? Why couldn't Jay Z present the best music score? Or J.K. Rowling give out the best original screenplay Oscar? Or Hillary Clinton, in her role as our new secretary of State, present best foreign-language film? Or Tyra Banks for best costumes?

The Grammys did a wonderful job of crossing boundaries, repeatedly teaming up older icons with younger phenoms, which is one way to attract a broader-based TV audience. It was a bracing reminder to the motion picture academy (who keep hinting that they have some tricks up their sleeve) that if they want an uptick in their slumbering ratings, It's time to think outside of the box.

Photo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at the Grammy Awards by Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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