In recent years, I’ve lamented my lack of a suitable space with cable to hold my Oscar party. I just don’t have anywhere to fit more than two or three people to watch the ceremony with me, and these days, few of my friends with more space have cable. So instead of a full-on party, I just invite one or two people. And I watch the whole ceremony, from red carpet pre-show to final credits. I have for many years watched the whole thing.
Of course, I live on the West Coast and don’t have to go to work in the morning, so that’s a distinct advantage to an evening show that runs several hours. I don’t think Oscar telecasts are notably shorter than Super Bowl telecasts, which I do not, in fact, watch. On the other hand, it’s also true that the Super Bowl starts earlier in the day and is usually over by early evening West Coast time. So don’t get me wrong; I do understand that my freedom with regards to time is a luxury that many Oscar viewers simply don’t have.
That said, I don’t know why “but it’s so long!” is an issue. If you’re interested in the Oscars, and if the show is actually done well, how much does that matter? I admit that both of those are big ifs, but still. If you’re not interested in the Oscars, don’t watch. I have a good friend who’s always invited to my Oscar parties even when it’s only three people hanging out in my bedroom (where my TV lives), and they never come because they aren’t really interested in movies. Another friend only marginally cares about the Oscars and wouldn’t watch them alone, but likes watching them with me. I understand that the Academy is worried about viewership, and certainly ABC and the sponsors are, but whatever.
But okay, if the show is done well. And that is, yes, more complicated. Especially because not everyone can agree on what a well-done Oscar show is; I remain the only person who wishes Billy Crystal still hosted every year (not even Billy Crystal wants that) and thought Jon Stewart did well both times. And of course, I’m still free. For some reason, though, Oscar hosts have been fairly controversial in recent years, with hardly anyone being agreed to have done a good job at it. No wonder it’s supposedly the least wanted job in Hollywood.
If the Oscars are to remain accessible for the casual fan and still be a tribute to people actually working in the industry, the important thing to do, in my opinion, is to make the casual fan care about the minutiae. I’ve been watching the Oscars off and on since the ’90s, when I was first able to stay up late enough, and I still don’t know the difference between the two sound categories. So you introduce them by explaining them. Don’t make your montage “here are some people on horses.” Make it “here are some great moments in editing,” so people can really see what editing adds to a film. Which I know not everyone gets, because I had to explain it to my boyfriend.
Okay, so maybe “Oscars as Film Studies Class” won’t win everyone over. But that’s just a start. Keep all Best Original Song nominees as production numbers, by Gods, as fans of all the artists will be more likely to watch—remember, for example, that one of the biggest recording stars in the world had never even heard of the Oscars before himself being nominated for “Jai Ho” and “O Saya,” both from Slumdog Millionaire. And often, the moments that people remember for years are things like Robin Williams and his You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown-on-crack-inspired turn at “Blame Canada.”
I think it might also help to field-test some of the jokes—and not just on Academy insiders. I’m not talking full-on focus group for everything, but I keep thinking about how Seth MacFarlane’s turn at hosting might have gone differently had actual actresses’ opinions really been sought on “We Saw Your Boobs.” Because they might have said that the gender inequities regarding nudity in the movies are serious and need real addressing. That wasn’t it. And imagine if someone had told David Letterman that his “Uma Oprah” bit just wasn’t funny.
Who are the Oscar telecasts for? Are they for the celebrities? Are they for people like me? Are they for the general public? In my opinion, the best thing you can do is make casual viewers understand what they’re watching. While certainly there are casual football viewers, people who may not understand all the rules of the game but watch the Super Bowl anyway, surely anyone watching the Oscars cares enough about movies to get into the Oscars as a year’s summation of the industry, which is what I feel the Oscars do best. And rather than cut the lifetime achievement awards and the technical awards, show the general public their importance. Make them feel, for one night at least, like insiders.