A blogger-friend asked me the other day for my read on the dismal ratings this year at the Oscars. This is what I wrote him, at www.billlucey.com: "I thought the Oscars were about as good as could be expected with a week to prepare, and a group of movies that most viewers had not seen, and won’t. I don’t believe that "No Country for Old Men," despite being covered in glory, is going to see a huge box office bump in the manner of "Shakespeare in Love." The disconnect between the awards and what audiences actually turn out to see in theaters is an entrenched problem in Hollywood that isn’t going away. For years now, the Oscars have been dominated by small movies made at independent studios or the indie divisions of big studios (last year’s Best Picture, "The Departed," made at Warner Bros, being a noted exception). The studios don’t want to make Oscar-worthy films. So here’s where things are, at a standoff: our annual ritual to celebrate America’s passion for going to the movies is confused by the disconnect between audiences and the movies that Oscar celebrates. No wonder we prefer to look at the dresses. And no surprise, then, that the ratings for this year’s telecast went from a long-term downhill slide to a precipitous, thudding drop of 20 percent."
It seems the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came to the same conclusion. In an interview today with EW.com, the executive director of the Academy, Bruce Davis, says this: "Some of these movies are just too difficult for a mass audience, frankly. And if we have moved into an era where there’s this dichotomy between big popular studio movies and smaller pictures for more specialized audiences, we may just have to get used to smaller audiences [for the Oscar telecast.] This could be a one-year blip but it doesn’t look like one. It looks like something that has been developing over the past few years. It’s as if the National Book Awards had to make a choice between giving awards to very serious fiction or to the most popular bestsellers. We’ve come to that point where there are two kinds of movies, and we’re focusing on the ones which, almost by definition, aren’t going to be blockbusters."
He also says that ABC, which airs the telecast, did a focus group and found — to its amazement — that most people who watch the Oscars had not seem the films nominated for Best Picture. Instead, they were tuning in for all the non-movie things: the dresses, the jewelry, the red carpet gossip and who brought their mother this year. An interesting q&a, you can read it here.