It was inevitable that the headlines set to follow Sunday night’s 93rd Academy Awards ceremony would be bombastic tales of terrible ratings. Indeed, numerous news outlets ran with the story, with Deadline proclaiming, “Least Watched and Lowest Rated Academy Awards Ever.”
Deadline isn’t wrong. They are very much factually correct. Should anyone give any weight to the fact that the Oscars had their lowest viewership on record in the history of the event? Of course not, just as nobody should be shocked to learn that restaurants had their worst fiscal year ever, or that concert revenues are down some 95% compared to 2019. Welcome to the realities of living through a pandemic, brother.
But that’s not to say that the Academy Awards doesn’t have some serious soul searching to do because the parent organization, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has two choices ahead of them with regard to the Oscars: either evolve … or die a slow death.
The 93rd Academy Awards were plagued with more problems than can be attributed to the pandemic alone. The graphics used for the television broadcast were janky. The “In Memoriam” segment was presented horribly too fast just so they could fit in the set number of names with the chosen song. And putting the Best Picture category ahead of Best Actress and Best Actor is already considered a boondoggle of historic proportions.
Production mistakes aside, there’s a larger issue at play that the Academy must confront. The Oscars are very clearly suffering from an identity crisis.
The ceremony is too long. Somehow it still went the full 3 hours and 15 minutes despite not having a host. Speaking of a host, while last year seemed new and refreshing, this year showed why a host is beneficial. Most of the audience tuning into the ceremony are casual moviegoers. They want jokes and controversy, not a bunch of actors patting themselves on the back.
And here’s likely my most controversial recommendation: cut out half the categories from the televised ceremony. Let’s be honest, 99.9% of people have never and will never watch an animated or live-action short film. Should we celebrate the artform and should those in the categories still receive Oscars? Yes. Do they need to be part of the 195-minute broadcast, which itself is causing people to massively criticize the ceremony and tune out? No.
“Kill your darlings” is common adage in the world of creativity. It’s important too. Whether a person is writing a novel, writing a screenplay, editing a film, or putting on an awards ceremony, sometimes something cherished must be left on the cutting room floor for the greater good of the overall project. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants the Oscars to celebrate the finer grains of the artform, but have the event be mainstream too.
That’s what is called wanting to have your cake but eat it, too. If the Academy isn’t willing to come to terms with what audiences want–and what audiences demand–as we approach the quarter mark of this century, then their cake will quickly and inevitably become just as stale as the Academy Awards.