As the Oscars Celebrated Excellence in Cinema, the Ratings Were a Horror Movie

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool

Normally a massacre of this level involves Jason Voorhees and a crowd of teenagers.

As I covered the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony here on a live basis last night, I had stated that I was doing so in order to prevent many others from having to endure the telecast. I had no idea I was going to be so successful in truncating the audience. Not only was the viewership reaching all-time lows, but it was also a steep drop from lasts year’s record-low numbers.

The entire ceremony was altered as a result of the pandemic. The broadcast was pushed back two months, from its normal late February appearance, and there was also a change in venue. A much smaller auditorium was used to allow for proper distancing, while the overflow attendees were herded out to adjoining patios and rotated in and out for the various categories. There was an odd mask requirement where the starlets could be properly seen on camera, but then everyone was required to mask up during commercial breaks. 

The format, as well, was a stuttering affair, with an odd timing of awards, no orchestra to play off those giving long-winded speeches (ironically I ended up muting the guy who won for Best Sound) but the worst of it all was the anti-climatic finale. Normally the gala culminates with the announcement of Best Picture, but forever-diva Rita Moreno came out to announce the category before the two big acting winners had been announced.

Tyler Perry
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool

This was done because of the assurance that the Best Actor trophy was going to be posthumously awarded to Chadwick Bosman. The intent was to herald a new era of diversity and end the evening with a massive dose of emotional catharsis. Then the announcement came that, shockingly, the winner was an 80-year-old white guy, Anthony Hopkins. Bosman had all but been assured of the win even before the nominations came out, and then the night broke down and ended on the side of the road. Hopkins was not even in attendance, so the entire ceremony did not conclude with a grand finale — it all just stopped.

All of this led to the most miserable of results. The overnight ratings came in and the numbers are worse than the box office receipts for “Cats.” The show drew only 9.85 million viewers, a jarringly low figure. The key demo rating was a dismal 1.9 for the 18-49-year-old viewers. This represents a drop from last year’s historic low of nearly -60%, and a loss of -64% in that advertiser demo. This is not just bad, not just awful — it is bordering on a performance worthy of a Roland Emmerich disaster film. 

Of those who did tune in, there was little to compel them to return next year. We saw a bald Don Cheadle present the award for Best Hair Styling, the 74-year-old Glenn Close twerking on camera, and Best Actress winner Frances McDormand howling like a wolf on stage. But hey, the film about the greatest movie of all time won a number of trophies. This means “Mank,” about the making of “Citizen Kane,” has won more Academy Awards than “Citizen Kane.” 

That makes as much sense as anything else we saw last night.