5 Ways to Actually Fix The Oscars
Last year’s Academy Awards found its smallest audience ever, 9.23 million. Many people attributed this to pandemic woes and a lack of connection to nominated films. This year is a different story. Theaters are open, the movies are readily available for in-home viewing, and many are really good. Yet, the Academy and show producers have found ways to make everyone upset again while trying to fix the Oscars. They have decided to “cut” some categories from the show to make the televised event shorter. They have also announced three hosts, one for each hour. Lastly, instead of nominating popular films, they have added a fan-voted award with the winner announced during the show for “fan-favorite movie of the year”.
None of these solutions will solve the show’s audience problem because these are not addressing why people have left. Many people tuned out because of politics. The wealthy industry’s award winners, hosts, and presenters often talked down to the at-home audience. Others tuned out because the long show wasn’t fun to watch. And, some tuned out because they had never heard of the Best Picture nominees. The list of issues can go on and on, so solving this is bigger than connecting with “young people” or shortening the show as the Academy seems to believe. We offer a few suggestions to combat the shrinking numbers that may actually fix the Oscars.
5. Pay the Host More
It may sound crazy to suggest that a pay increase to the host will fix anything, but many hosts have said that the glory of hosting is not worth the hype. The host is usually offered $10,000. In Hollywood dollars that is very little. Even smaller if you factor in the work a host is expected to do. Following Kevin Hart’s fall from grace when a small online backlash resulted in him being removed from the job and multiple years of no-host shows, what incentive does top talent have to take the gig? This year’s hosts, Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes are great comedians, but none would be considered movie stars and have no relationship to any of the nominated content.
We crunched the numbers on the hosts and found the most-watched show recently, was in 2014 with Ellen Degeneres bringing in 43.7 million viewers in the US alone. By 2019, that number fell by nearly half, falling more ever since. Seth MacFarlane’s hosting gig in 2013 saw 40.3 million viewers, the seventh most-watched show (between 2000-2020), but he didn’t get great reviews from critics despite seeing an increase in viewership year-over-year. In many comments about this later, MacFarlane shared that hosting was lose-lose, you don’t get paid well and industry critics will always try to find something wrong with what you did. Maybe a pay increase could give the job more value to top talent that could make for a better show.
4. Remember its a TV Show
In all its attempts to make the Oscars more watchable, they have never written the show to be a really great TV experience. A challenge with viewership come primarily from the perception of the show being too dry.
All award shows have seen a slide in ratings over the last few years, but shows like the Grammys and the Tonys work to present work live and in-person. The Academy asks very little of its live audience with performances limited to the host’s performance and musical acts for Best Original Song. In 2021, all musical acts for Original Song were pre-recorded from around the world and shown during the pre-show, meaning no real entertainment was offered during the host-less ceremony. The audience is filled with so many talented actors and performers, use them!
This year’s show is being produced by the team who created the film Girls Trip, hoping for a fresh take. Television has started to eclipse the film industry in viewership and watercooler conversation. Maybe it’s time to let the TV producers put on a better TV show than movie producers ever could.
3. Use the Presenters
Awards show banter is often awkward to listen to for the at-home and live audience. The presenters are either alone or presenting with someone they don’t know. So, the prewritten, often unrehearsed presentations feel flat. The show needs to keep viewers tuning in past the opening monologue.
An appearance from the “four Chris-es” (Chris Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt) would certainly liven up the party. With the right writers, you could make a viral moment of that presentation. The name game could carry on to multiple actresses named Kate or one-name Oscar winners like Cher or Adele. Bringing together famous duos could liven the show as well. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet have never presented together when they are often nominees, so this should happen.
The goal with this is not to create “viral” moments, but to have the audience anticipating who will present next. The excitement for the presenters will carry over into the excitement for the winner. This is Hollywood’s biggest night, after all, so show off a little! Some actors are better used in a serious presentation that is thoughtful and heartfelt with others taking on more comedy to keep things light and moving. Academy, hire some writers!
2. Stop Acting like Superhero Movies Are Bad
We get it, they are not “cinema”, they “take up too much space”. All of Hollywood’s biggest directors have found a way to take down superhero movies. Not all are worth Oscar’s attention, granted, but little representation also makes no sense. Since Black Panther, no Marvel films have made the Best Picture list. Many have crossed into a box office of $1 Billion worldwide, some into $2 Billion. Joker was “cinematic” enough to qualify for Best Picture and a win for Joaquin Phoenix. This though negated any respect for Marvel’s MCU crescendo, Avengers: Endgame, which may be the biggest, most talked about movie in decades. They sided with the “better” of the two movies, rather than celebrating them both. Yet by including both, they would get more viewers!
The idea of the superhero movie genre is nothing new and not foreign to the biggest names in the business. Marlon Brando is Superman’s dad! Innumerable Oscar winners and Oscar nominees have joined the MCU, DECU, or other franchises. It is no longer fair to say these are B-Movies. Quite the opposite. Top talent should feel insulted by esteemed colleagues saying their work doesn’t matter and serves no purpose. Marvel’s Eternals director, Chloé Zhao, is the reigning Best Director and the film starred Oscar winners, Angelina Jolie and Selma Hayek. Though the film was not strong enough to cross into the Best Picture path, it helps to quiet its loudest and most famous critics.
That said, this year’s fan-favorite award is proving tone-deaf. (A second try at this pandering award). Stop asking fans to show up for their favorite content when after sidelining it for so long. A small audience for the Oscars should indicate that the viewers are disconnected – so reconnect them. Spider-Man: No Way Home doesn’t need to win Best Picture, but it should have received a nomination. No Way Home became life-support for the entire theater business around the world, bringing $1 billion worth of people back to theaters. If you are trying to make this Hollywood’s night to celebrate the best in the business, that needs to include the movies doing the most business.
1. Stop Cutting Categories
Lastly, the Academy thinks people leave the show because it’s too long. Yes and no. Yes, it’s too long and dry and unfunny most of the time. No, because if it were better we would probably watch the whole show. the Grammys and the Tonys exclude categories from the primetime show because they have so many more categories and only one night. The Oscars have only 24 categories. All of them are integral to telling the story of filmmaking.
This year the cars are cutting eight categories. The last time they thought of doing this, they only were cutting four. Then and now, critics perceive this as a move to minimize the importance of those jobs. The show often runs for over three hours. These pre-taped speeches will cut in throughout the show and not air in full.
The push to cut categories came mostly from ABC, but with so many more glaring issues, the run time may be the least of their problems. Make the night a fun celebration, not a ritual tradition. Celebrate all categories and all nominees. If you are going to put on a show, do it right or not at all.
What are your thoughts on how to fix the Oscars? Share in the comments!