Despite an altogether unprecedented level of public apathy, on this Sunday night the Hollywood establishment will come together to participate in the granddaddy (or, to be politically correct, the grandparent) of all awards shows.
As aging baby boomers and one time protesters of the Vietnam War, many entertainment industry leaders will remember the old slogan, “What If They Gave a War and Nobody Came?”
This year, the pertinent question is, “What If They Gave an Oscar Ceremony and Nobody Cared?”
Every year, critics of this Tinseltown ritual love to pronounce the awards show as “the worst ever,” and last year (with Ellen DeGeneres as a fatally bland host, decidedly non-glamorous top acting winners like Forrest Whittaker, Helen Mirren and Alan Arkin, distracting shadow dancers punctuating the entire show, and a badly bloated running time) was certainly no exception. The reviews for the Oscar extravaganza proved almost entirely angry and negative, even though the ratings (with 39.9 million viewers) offered a slight uptick from the disastrously dismal 2006 program (where “Crash” won Best Picture). Still, the 2007 Once-a-Year-Relentlessly-Hyped-Super-Spectacular-Oscar-Event barely beat the season premiere of the weekly show, “American Idol,” that pulled 37.4 million viewers.
This Sunday night’s telecast (hosted, as in 2006, by Jon Stewart) stands little chance of overcoming the Academy’s long-term ratings slump, and the level of anticipatory public excitement is feeble to non-existent. No one needs opinion surveys to tell this story: just consider your own experience, your ongoing conversations with friends and co-workers. Without scientific proof to confirm the proposition, I’m still certain that this year will bring fewer Oscar parties, less betting on “Best Supporting Actress” (how do you pronounce Saoirse Ronan?), scant speculation at the water cooler at work, or the dinner table at home. My own reaction to this year’s rituals may be representative: in the past, I’ve covered the Academy Awards live from LA for various media outlets, or hosted popular Oscar Parties sponsored by one of our radio affiliates. For 2008, I turned down several invitations to lend my name to some Oscar event or another; in view of the undeniable absence of excitement from all quarters, that decision looks increasingly solid.
Academy Award apologists may insist that this year’s ho-hum attitude stems mostly from the uncertainty surrounding the writer’s strike; until a few days ago, no one knew whether the big stars could even attend the Oscar ceremony. Nevertheless, the underwhelming sigh of relief provoked by the strike settlement indicates a deeper problem than inconvenience associated with any labor dispute.