Oscars change things up to win back ratings

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Hugh Jackman

Sunday night’s Academy Awards were, in many ways, not unlike years past â€" there was the runaway winner in Slumdog Millionaire, winning eight awards, with other favourites such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk picking up its share of Oscar trophies.

So in a night of few surprises, what’s really worth talking about is the show itself.

After last year’s disastrous ceremony, which drew in an all-time low of 32 million viewers, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to switch things up with a scaled-back, more personable and spontaneous show in an effort to raise its ratings to a more respectable level.

The change in the show’s style was obvious from the broadcast’s opening moments â€" host Hugh Jackman performed the opening number, a performance he prefaced with a disclaimer: “Everything is being downsized because of this recession.” What followed was a musical montage paying tribute to the night’s big nominees, such as Slumdog Millionaire, The Dark Knight and The Wrestler. However, the makeshift cardboard sets were comparable to the quality expected of a public school spring play.

After warming up the crowd with his unconventional opening performance, Jackman made his way off stage to make small talk with a number of stars in the front rows. While his attempt to interact with the crowd seemed more forced than spontaneous, he succeeded at opening the show in more personable fashion than years past.

The shift towards a more personable show was also noticeable in the presentations of the night’s big awards. Former winners presented the awards in the categories of best supporting and lead actor and actress, in an effort to welcome new members to the groups and celebrate the nominees. Each nominee was addressed personally by a former winner â€" along with a small description of their character in their film â€" bringing many nominees to tears. This was a welcoming change from the traditional and largely uninspired method of simply listing off the names of the nominees.

Another noticeable change in the show’s style this year was its attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Last year’s Academy Awards were largely preoccupied with films which, until the Oscar buzz got going, were not making a huge splash at the box office. Not many blockbusters were given much attention, and despite the brilliance of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, they did not have the same widespread appeal as Harry Potter or Spiderman 3, for example.

However, this year there seemed to be an extra push towards appealing to the average movie-goer, not necessarily in the films nominated, but in the other features between awards. For example, such films not recognized by the Academy in the form of nominations, but featured in various montages, included Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, High School Musical 3, James Bond and Indiana Jones. Putting Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens in the show’s tribute to musicals came across as a blatant attempt at appealing to younger viewers.

Although an obvious ratings grab, the 81st Academy Awards show proved more relatable and personable with a wider range of movies featured and an all-around more intimate show. However, with Slumdog Millionaire cleaning up and other favourites taking whatever awards were left, this year’s ceremony left a lot to be desired â€" most importantly, a less predictable outcome.

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