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69th Oscars muster only 40-million viewers

About four times the number of people that have seen The English Patient at U.S. theaters watched the independent feature collect nine Academy Awards on TV Monday night at the Shrine Auditorium.

The lack of major-studio box office blockbusters in this year's competition, however, apparently cost Oscar viewers. The 69th Annual Academy Awards broadcast was the second-lowest-rated in the trophy show's history, down about 10 percent from last year, Nielsen Media Research reports.

The lowest-rated Oscar show was in 1986, when Oliver Stone's Platoon won Best Picture.

Monday's Barbara Walters Oscar special, which has become a tradition on Oscar-hosting ABC, logged its lowest ratings ever. This year's show featured Harrison Ford, Lauren Bacall and Woody Harrelson.

An average of 40-million people watched Monday's gala on ABC. The network was touting a figure of 73-million viewers, but that included anyone who tuned in to as little as five minutes of the three-hour, 38-minute broadcast.

With popular major-studio movies virtually shut out of the ceremony, this year's derby included several movies that many viewers have yet to see.

The English Patient, based on a prize-winning novel and with two English stars, cashed in nine of its leading 12 nominations, including best picture and director (Anthony Minghella).

Only one big studio, TriStar, won a major award: Cuba Gooding Jr.'s supporting actor trophy for Jerry Maguire.

But even at its second-lowest overall performance, the Oscar gala will be the most-watched entertainment show of the season, as it is every year.