The Latest Oscars Debacle and How Hollywood Could Fix It (If They Wanted to)

March 10th, 2018 1:30 PM

The “dog bites man” part of the annual Oscars telecast has arrived.

The Oscar ratings for Sunday’s show, in which The Shape of Water won Best Picture, sunk yet again. How bad did they drop? Early estimates show 20 percent collapse, making it the least seen Oscars telecast ever.

Most major awards shows are seeing a similar slump. Those very same shows have taken a sharp left turn in recent years. They pack the night with lectures, virtue signaling and gags mocking Red State USA.

Is it a coincidence that these shows are drawing fewer eyeballs? Of course not.

The dirty little secret, at least when it comes to the Oscar ratings, is that the powers that be don’t care about the numbers. Oh, they’ll say they do to the press and maybe each other. They’ll promise this time the show will focus on the movies, not the issues du jour.

Deep down, they don’t care.

Not a bit.

How can we be sure? Because the producers won’t change the current formula. In fact, they doubled down on it last night.

Host Jimmy Kimmel mocked both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. He eschewed jokes for oh, so woke platitudes about #MeToo, Times Up and other social justice concerns. Presenters and award winners alike demanded open borders and more gun control.

The 2016 Democratic National Convention had nothing on the 90th Oscar ceremonies.

A show that runs three full hours on a good year went north of three and a half hours thanks to limp running gags and copious clip montages.

All of the above is easily fixed. Gently tell the presenters and nominees to cut back on the sloganeering. Edit down the lengthy running gags. Tell Kimmel to tell jokes, not try to save the world via his 10 minute monologue.

Easy peasy.

So why didn’t we see that last night? Hollywood would rather lose viewers and squander the best three hour infomercial to send a message. To feel good about itself. And, most likely, deflect attention from the toxic culture exposed by the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

They knew.

All of the above is far more important than ratings. That leaves money on the table, but the problem is more widespread than that.

Collateral PR Damage

The Hollywood brand took another direct hit last night. Consumers who vowed to stay away from the telecast are reading the headlines today and applauding themselves for their foresight. Conservatives who trusted the producers’ promise for a less political show won’t make the same mistake twice.

Here’s arguably the biggest fallout from Sunday’s train wreck. Liberal movie lovers, seeking a night full of glamour and entertainment, walked away with very little joy or escapism.

Fail, fail fail.

Kimmel will emerge unscathed. The press ate up his woke presentation, and they’ll keep supporting his hard-left monologues on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” That show’s ratings will stay solid, in part because the fractured TV landscape allows for modestly successful programs to thrive.

Would the Oscar producers really invite him back next year? Why not? He did as told.

There’s No Business Like …

Show business has never been a more loaded term than today. The film industry clings to reboots, remakes and sequels because they offer greater return on investment. Audiences may complain about the lack of imagination they represent. Crowds still line up for these brand extensions.

Wanna bet against Avengers: Infinity War at the box office?

And then there’s the other side of Hollywood, where events like the Oscars fall. The industry knows certain subjects and approaches are a tough sell. Political awards shows come to mind. So do movies portraying the U.S. military in a harsh light.

The industry keeps ’em coming all the same.

Later this year, after a flotilla of anti-Iraq War movies bombed, we’ll see Keira Knightley playing an Iraq War whistleblower. Need another potential insta-dud? Sandra Bullock will portray failed, divisive political figure Wendy Davis in a new biopic, Let Her Speak.

Movies like 2016’s Miss Sloane lectured audiences on the glories of gun control. It proved a calamitous flop, something honest observers saw coming miles away.

What the Bad Oscar Ratings Really Mean

So there you have it. Today’s Hollywood is a bifurcated affair, driven by both money and messaging. In a perfect world the two would work together.

They don’t. So it’s on with the show all the same.

The industry is willing, and able, to swallow hard and accept losing money in order to send the approved messages.

[Cross-posted from Hollywood in Toto.]