Oscar Talk: Viewership Jumps

oscars10Blame it on the down economy, and the accompanying desire for escapist entertainment. Or perhaps it’s the fault of the nasty winter weather, which continued to break records nationwide (global warming, or new ice age?). Who wants to go outside?

OrĀ  maybe there simply wasn’t anything else worth watching on Sunday night.

At any rate, the 81st annual Academy Awards telecast drew 36.3 million viewers, an increase of 13 percent over the 32 million who caught the show last year, according to a report in the New York Times. Viewership grew by 22 percent among men ages 18 to 34.

That’s despite the predictable post-show grumbling by television critics and others, some of whom probably wouldn’t be pleased by the Oscars even if the telecast ran no more than two hours and was the funniest thing on TV.

By the way, some of these same critics kill acres of trees in the course of endlessly hyping such awful “reality” programming as “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor” and “The Biggest Loser.” Like they know from quality.

More factoids: Viewership for the show peaked in 1998, when 55 million watched Titanic win 11 Oscars, including best picture and best director (James Cameron). More than 40 million watched the Oscars show in 2007, when the award for best picture went to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed.

So much for those who would want to force the Oscars to honor only the year’s biggest crowd-pleasers.* Isn’t television already overwhelmed with popularity contests?

*(This is NOT a dis on The Dark Knight, which deserved Oscar attention on artistic merit alone. Its exclusion had more to do with a)a general disrespect for comic-book culture, and b)a liberal political agenda that clearly dominates the thinking of Hollywood types).

UPDATE: Mary McNamara, a television critic for the L.A.Times, writes, “If nothing else, the 81st version proved that the Oscars are important after all, that in this digitally splintered world where everyone can find something better to do every single second of the day, there remain media and entertainment experiences we long to share with one another.” The rest of her piece.