How to Fix the Oscars


Well, here we are, nearly a week after the 90th Academy Awards sported record-low viewership numbers. Nielsen suggested they were seen only by a handful of wandering channel-surfers and that strange guy down the street who collects antique dog bowls. No, seriously, only about 26.5 million people tuned in. As reported on Wednesday, that’s a 16% drop from 2017… when the experts were also panicking about how terrible the declining viewership was.

Anyway, since that all happened almost a week ago, we’ve had plenty of time for all manner of critics, experts, Hollywood acolytes and on-the-street opinion-givers to mull over why the Academy Awards can’t seem to get people to give a hoot.

Is it the humor-lite monologues, shot through with political commentary and inside-baseball nasty potshots, they’ve asked? Is it the fact that the show stretches on longer that the lifespan of your average housefly? Or that it’s so packed with celebrity finger-pointing and chest-thumping speeches that it’s about as annoying as your average housefly? Could it be changing viewer habits? The lure of streaming TV? Cable cutters?

And the answer is: Yes. I’m sure all of those things have a part in the declining equation.

I’m sure that the minds behind the Oscars will come up with tons of lights-camera-action solutions. The powers-that-be will create a list of potential new hosts. They’ll try to find ways to make the event more empowered, more culturally significant, more this, more that. They’ll power up and double down, doing all they can to get the majority of Americans to wake up to just how important the ideas of all those directors, actors and producers really are.

In my humble opinion, however, they’re kinda missing the point. In fact, they’ve been missing it for a good long while, and will likely go on missing it. Some have been screaming about it, but I thought I’d whisper it here, anyway. Hey, I’ll even weave it into an old campaign slogan, since politics seems to be so central to an awards show these days:

It’s the movies, stupid!

Think about it. What if Hollywood stopped worrying about trying to get people to care about the movies they care about, and simply paid attention to the movies we care about?

It’s a novel idea, but not all that tough to put into practice.

The reason that the Best Picture category was expanded to more than five nomination slots a few years back (which fluctuates between six and 10), was because somebody wanted to make it possible to include the fun, people-pleasing pics that folks who buy actual movie tickets enjoyed. That’s how it was pitched, anyway. So why not actually give that idea a shot? I mean, does anyone remember the year when the Academy Awards hit their high water mark? It was 1998, when the Oscars drew a record high of 57 million viewers. That was the year that Titanic won. You know, that little movie that nobody saw or cared about.

The fact is, we folks out here in flyover country still enjoy good movies. Our favorites may not always radically reshape the world, but that’s OK. They’re still good movies. And we love the movie-going experience. Pricey though it may be, a theater trip is something of a cool affair—featuring new theater loungers and a pumped-up menu of tasty treats—that can make for a fun diversion, a great date, or an enjoyable evening with the family.

All the Academy needs to do is represent that special joy and the films that make us most joyous. I mean that’s what Oscar night is really supposed to be about, right? It’s about celebrating well-made, memorable products and the people who make them.

I’d suggest to the Academy Awards crew that we love the movies, and we’d be willing to spend an evening saluting the many myriad movies that we turn out in droves to see. But we’re just sorta, maybe, a little tiny bit tired of … them.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Rocketshipper More than 1 year ago

Forgive me in advance, I'm probably going to end up sounding like a film student snob or something, but here it goes

Don't we already have awards shows that award the movies "we" care about?  You know..."the People's Choice awards" and "Teen Choice Awards" from Nickelodeon.  And what kind of stuff wins those shows?  stuff like "Twilight", seriously.  The kind of movies that "we" like are movies like The Avengers and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  Do THOSE movies deserve to stand side by side as best picture nominees with films like "Schindler's List" or such?  Sometimes a movie slips in that is both popular AND artistically beautiful, meaningful, and powerful, but not all the time.  To be honest sometimes I feel like when people complain that the Oscars don't award the movies that everyone has seen, it's kind of like if you watched an award show for restaurants and wondered why they don't nominate Mcdonald's for best restaurant.  That's basically it; most of the movies that end up being super popular are the "McDonalds" of movies, so why are we surprised they don't win awards??  And should the academy start changing its standards and awarding those types of movies just because more people have seen them??  I hope they don't.  I feel like the Oscars shouldn't worry that much about viewership and all that; just be what they are.  If we need an awards show to attract the attention of people who currently dislike the Oscars, then make a new awards show. 

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I totally agree, Rocketshipper. Oscars ratings are low because of cord-cutting, a trend toward on-demand TV and short video clips, decreasing overlap between blockbusters and award contenders, and cultural fragmentation. But that's fine, because the Oscars should be about rewarding good movies, not drawing high ratings.

The underlying problem is that audiences are preferring flashy, derivative sequels, spin-offs and remakes over -- as you said -- "artistically beautiful, meaningful, and powerful" movies. That's really troubling for folks who love the arts.

-- The Kenosha Kid
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by First Comment Guy

Who cars about the Oscars anyway? Why would people want to watch an awards show that nominates a bunch of movies that they didn't see?

The Oscars are just a bunch of rich people patting themselves on the back and preaching political sermons. Thanks but no thanks.
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
I agree with Bob.

If no one cares about the movies in the running for Best Picture (or even saw them; I only saw two of them this year), why would you tune in to watch?

If no one saw any of the performances in said movies, why would you tune in to watch?

If your favorite film of the year wasn't even in the running, why would you tune in to watch?

The surprise hit of the holiday season and beyond was The Greatest Showman, which audiences loved enough to take it from "a financial disaster" to "the highest-grossing movie musical not based on a Broadway show" of all time.

It got nominated for, and lost, Best Song.

Big deal.

How about a Best Picture nomination?

But they couldn't, because a) it was a crowd pleaser the critics all hated (and failed to understand) ... probably because it was a celebration of the American spirit and that most-loathed of all human beings: a white male entrepreneur who exploited people back when no one cared.

You know, kind of like how Hollywood execs were exploiting people until last week. Ahem.

Anyway, had it been nominated I might have bothered watching.

Had Star Wars been nominated, I might have bothered watching.

Had I not watched Adam Ruins the Oscars, I might have bothered watching. Once you know it's all fixed and relies on how much money studios pours into the voters' pockets, it loses its allure. I mean, everyone knew it was fixed before, but... now it's officially out there.

Truth is, people just don't care what Hollywood thinks of the movies anymore. They like what they like, and that's that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The last time a popular movie won best picture was in 2003. That was 15 years ago.
John Peterson More than 1 year ago
Let me guess, was it Lord of the Rings: Return of the King?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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PolishBear More than 1 year ago
Really? I loved all of the movies you mention. How could ANYONE not like "The King's Speech"?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This head scratching over the declining Oscar viewership has always baffled me because the explanation is so obvious, and it's nothing to do with the politics, celebrity ego stroking OR the movies.  It's because less and less people have cable these days, and the number is going down literally by the week.  I haven't had cable for almost five years, and I don't know a single person in my social circle who still has it either.  Everything is streaming these days.  Naturally, we're not going to be watching the Oscars.  That, to me, seems to be the more logical explanation for why Oscar viewership is half of what it was twenty years, when "streaming" referred to water and not movies.
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner. 
PolishBear More than 1 year ago
Personally I ENJOY going to the movies. I saw seven of the ten movies nominated for Best Picture, and enjoyed them all. I think seeing a movie on the big screen, in a theater with a LOT of other people, is a great communal experience. But in the digital age, people are becoming increasingly isolated from one another and losing their powers of human communication.
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure I get your gist; that the Oscars require cable to watch them? I used to get them with a plain old antenna! But I agree it's less fun streaming an awards show; seems like a waste of bandwidth when I could watch Netflix instead.