Why the Oscars failed

Why is it so hard to turn Hollywood's most prestigious awards ceremony into an entertaining television program? Each year, I feel a little like perennial Oscar nominee/rare winner Meryl Streep; it's nice to get invited to the ceremony, but you're usually stuck in a seat, wishing you had curled up at home with DVDs of the nominated films instead.

It wasn't for a lack of interest; ABC released preliminary ratings figures Monday showing an average 36.3 million viewers watched Sunday's broadcast, making it the most-watched entertainment program of the 2008-09 TV season. (It was also, however, just 4 million more people than last year, which was the least-watched Oscars ever. If estimates hold, Sunday's show will be the third-least-watched in its history.)

And while some fans online have already lambasted me for being too tough on hunky host Hugh Jackman, here's why this year's Oscars ceremony failed for me this year:

Jackman forgot to STAY entertaining: The Tony-winning action movie star started so promisingly with a smoothly delivered opening including an amazing number with razor sharp choreography, cheeky humor and a surprise singing cameo from Anne Hathaway. But somebody forgot to tell him he had to stay entertaining through the entire show — and a limp musical number with Beyonce does not count. I suggest giving him another chance next year, with some crack writers to pen jokes as the show unfolds.

Five past winners stroking five nominees equals awful television: Having the five past winners come out and read interminable introductions/compliments for nominees in certain awards ranks up there with having Rob Lowe in a dance number as Worst Oscars Idea Ever. When it comes to speechifying on TV — as an emotional, grateful Jerry Lewis proved Sunday while collecting his humanitarian award — less is usually much more.

Sound editing and costume design awards should not be televised: I get that Hollywood wants throw a bone to the hordes of people who make their overpaid stars look good. But that should come in the form of one or two obscure categories — say, special effects and makeup — which can serve as a necessary nod to the nonstars in the house.

Winners were too predictable: I'm not sure what can be done about this, besides de-snobbing the Oscar academy so it actually considers honoring crowd-pleasing films that were made well, such as The Dark Knight and Gran Torino.

The Oscars still lack diversity: I'm sure I'll be accused of over-sensitivity, but at a time when a film about India was the biggest Oscar winner in many years, it seemed really odd that the people actually holding the movie's most important Oscars were not Indian (Slumdog Millionaire's wins for best picture, best director and best screenplay all went to British men; music director A.R. Rahman did become first Indian to win two Oscars, for best original score and song).

Other than Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, no Hispanic, Asian or African-American actors were major winners this year, perhaps because — outside of the supporting actress category — few people of color were nominated for big awards. Time for the Academy to show a bit more range, instead of depending on one movie or one awards category to break up the parade of Hollywood's usual suspects.

Eric Deggans can be reached at (727) 893-8521 or deggans@sptimes.com. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

Why the Oscars failed 02/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 11:08pm]

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