Oscar Preview, Part 2: Showmanship Deficit Plagues Joyless Show

Yesterday’s TV Blog focused mainly on the erosion of the Oscar audience over the last seven years that morphed into a virtual landslide last year when viewership nosedived to a record low.

The blog, written this week because this year’s Oscars are airing this Sunday on ABC, was focused more on the ratings than explanations for them. As such, it offered only one hypothesis for this decline.

The hypothesis (repeated many times here over the years) floats the opinion that the migration of the movie experience from theaters to homes, coupled with all of the content now available at home in competition with movies, is slowly but surely rendering the Oscars and the moviegoing experience it honors obsolete.

But that might be only one of the reasons for the decline of an awards show that was once one of TV’s grandest annual events.



Other possible causes go directly to the quality of the telecast. They include the show’s famously long-winded acceptance speeches, awards in categories that are important only to movie-industry insiders, lectures from Hollywood stars scolding the rest of us on various political issues, the great length of the show, the almost complete lack of surprising moments, and along with that, a general paucity of what used to be known as entertainment.

In a way, the aforementioned items can be summed up by this question: Where is the showmanship? This is what Hollywood is supposed to be about, or at least it was once upon a time.

But unfortunately, much of what comes out of Hollywood today is morose, gloomy, violent and profane. This is not to say that movie dramas that are decidedly on the dark side are bad movies. 

On the contrary, Hollywood movies today -- gloomy or otherwise -- are consistently well-produced.

It is just that the preponderance of the gloomy ones at Oscar time has the effect of turning this celebratory awards show into a dreary downer. (Occasional exceptions to this include 2012’s Best Picture “The Artist” and “La La Land,” winner of six Oscars in 2017).

Some of the reasons for the decline of the Oscars listed above have been with us for a long time such as the long speeches, the technical award categories that don’t resonate with ordinary people and the telecast’s length (although for ABC, the longer the show goes on, the more commercials they can pack into it).

Occasional commentaries from presenters and award winners on political and social issues have also long been with us.

But in recent years, as Americans have divided themselves almost 50-50 into two opposing and uncompromising camps, the strident virtue-signaling of today’s stars has the potential to offend approximately half the Oscar audience who are also moviegoers.

It should go without saying, but alienating half your audience is no way to retain them.

It has all become so predictable, hasn’t it? An over-long show, patronizing lectures from rich and successful Hollywood stars, a sense of general boredom through much of the telecast, charmless comedy bits that fall flat and nominees that are of limited interest to many -- these are the defects that plague the Oscars year after year.

In the seven years that the TV Blog has been covering the Oscars here, only two moments stood out as surprises that were so unusual that they became the principal focus of our morning-after postmortems.

These were the sensational botched Best Picture announcement by “Bonnie and Clyde” co-stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway (pictured above) as they closed the show in 2017 by announcing the wrong movie as the winner, and Joaquin Phoenix’s spellbinding acceptance speech in 2020 in which he decried the artificial insemination of cows after winning the Best Actor Oscar for “The Joker.”

These were complete surprises and also completely unplanned. In fact, they were flukes. But maybe there would be more of them if the producers and the boldfaced names who participate in putting on the Oscars every year would just loosen up a bit and, dare I say, try and have a little fun for a change.

Instead, they give the impression that Hollywood is the most joyless place on Earth. And who wants to watch something like that for three-plus hours?

3 comments about "Oscar Preview, Part 2: Showmanship Deficit Plagues Joyless Show".
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  1. Andrew Butcher from MBMG, March 24, 2022 at 4:23 p.m.

    You mention the 2017 Best Picture debacle but then still refer to LaLa Land as the winner that year. Moonlighting was the actual winner. 

  2. John Grono from GAP Research replied, March 24, 2022 at 8:30 p.m.

    Andrew, I don't see how you can say that Adam referred to La La Land as winning Best Picture in 2017 when he actually wrote ... “La La Land,” winner of six Oscars in 2017.

  3. A. Buckman from MediaPost, March 25, 2022 at 9:16 a.m.

    Please allow me to clarify what happened here. We actually changed and updated that sentence to its present wording after Mr. Butcher pointed out our original error, for which we thank him. Sorry for any confusion, and have a great weekend. I am grateful for your readership. -- Adam Buckman

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