Indeed, Oscar ratings will be abysmal. Here’s what really matters


In any year, creating the Oscars telecast could be a thankless job. No matter how you trick it out, the show is three-plus hours of live television, basically an endless succession of people reading lists and making acceptance speeches. Start playing off winners mid-speech to stay upon schedule and people complain; let winners talk and people complain even more when the show runs long.

Over the years, some shows happen to be better, some worse, but I applaud all who may have agreed to take it on.

Especially Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins , who are producing the 93rd Academy Awards, the COVID Oscars.

Last year, the biggest question the Oscars faced has been whether or not “Parasite” would become the first non-English-language film to win best picture (it did, along with three some other awards. )


This year there are so many questions it’s hard to know where to begin. Let us start with: Who’s going to watch a show honoring a bunch of movies most people have not seen mainly because movie theaters were closed pertaining to pretty much an entire year?

Is “The Queen’s Gambit” or “Money Heist” nominated? Will “Tiger King” be receiving a specific award? Because while some in Hollywood wasted precious early-pandemic months debating whether releasing films on streaming providers or VOD when all the theaters had been closed would somehow end cinema permanently, that’s what we were watching.

To be fair, no one expects this year’s telecast to have anything but terrible ratings. Even without the coronavirus challenge, ratings for the Oscars telecast have done nothing but decline for the simple reason that it is on broadcast television plus ratings for everything on broadcast television have done only decline.

There is a chance more individuals than expected will tune in to mourn Chadwick Boseman (nominated for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) or to discover what an Oscars ceremony held in Union Train station will look like. But there is an identical if not greater chance that will, with COVID-19 restrictions starting to ease, many will decide that the last thing they want to do is spend three more time in front of a home screen.

Bringing in Soderbergh is a bold move, guaranteed to increase the attention quotient . Will the entire show be shot on the hand-held camera? Will it reunite (please God) Dianne Wiest, Meryl Streep and Candice Bergen ? (If Soderbergh could capture “Let Them All Talk” within two weeks, he really could possibly bring it in at 3 hours. )

I am a bit concerned about deficiency of a host this year. The lack of some previously beloved comic forced to make interstitial Lady gaga jokes definitely streamlined the last two telecasts. But after the year that we’ve had, viewers may need more hand-holding than usual. The simple presence of the Oscars certainly hints at a return to normalcy, but it would be nice to have a trusted figure tell us that things are going to be OK.

Maybe they could even get their second Pfizer shot live, to assure the vaccine-anxious who might be watching. (Soderbergh could get one of those really big needles from “ The Knick . ”)


We are certainly anxious about Soderbergh’s claim that this year’s ceremony is going to feel “like a movie. ”

I want to know more. Will it be a good movie? A possibly Oscar-nominated movie? Because having a best picture list such as this year’s the competition is pretty intense.

Or will it be some sort of “found footage” situation that quickly drags, causing viewers to wonder if a better way to honor film on Sunday night could be to actually support those local theaters now open simply by seeing an actual movie? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing if the Oscars ratings were low because people decided to go to the movies rather? (Talk among yourselves. )


Obviously, this year’s Oscars “movie” will have a star-studded cast. But will they be, state, struggling to make their way from the top decks of this ocean liner, now capsized, to cut through the steel bottom in hopes of rescue? Since I’m telling you right now, not even Meryl Streep can match the particular pathos Ms. Shelley Winters conjured in her “ Poseidon Adventure ” death scene.

I would totally end up being down for it being a heist movie. Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rhianna and the rest of “ Ocean’s 8 ” swiping enough glaciers to make the folks at Harry Winston wish they had not really lent out all those Oscar night diamonds. Especially if the caper could somehow include Melissa McCarthy as the undercover agent from “Spy. ” But I feel the legal responsibility issues involved would dishearten even Soderbergh.

Maybe his opus is a comedy — God sees that, as with most years, the best picture nominee list could use a little comic relief. All of us do know it won’t become a musical. Performances by the musical nominees have been offloaded to some 90-minute pre show called “Into the Spotlight, ” which I guess is supposed to make up for the absence of screaming fans on Hollywood Boulevard.

It will probably be interesting to see how the reddish colored carpet is going to work at Partnership Station. If Jimmy Fallon were hosting, he would definitely be running down it to leap onto a train as the doors closed right on the face of his pursuer, possibly Bryan Cranston. You can say that for the odd location: Films that start with a train scene are usually pretty good.

Advertising campaign

Unfortunately, and am cannot be the first to notice this, the Oscar telecast is not a film. It is a television show with a lot of repetitive but important ingredients. Lists must be look at, clips must be shown, people must give speeches, and no matter how much the makers beg, these speeches will certainly veer wildly between the honestly moving, the pointedly political and the ever-exasperating “and I’d like to thank every member on my team” ridiculousness.

Soderbergh has a lot of experience with television, therefore I’m not sure why they have chosen to insist that his Oscars will be a movie, especially when television has so many Oscar-friendly templates to choose from (and I’m not even counting the Emmys, the Grammys or, heaven forbid, the Golden Globes).

For one thing, a 3½-hour movie sounds just like a season of “ Fleabag , ” and who doesn’t want another season of “Fleabag? ” If Phoebe Waller-Bridge is not willing to help, then surely a reality show, with its spiky structure of issue, truce, more conflict, direct-to-camera speech makes more feeling as a model than a film.


Personally, I’d go with a variety show approach, specifically those old-time Christmas special offers. You know, like when Judy Garland sat at home over-imbibing while an endless array of the girl famous friends “dropped in” to decorate the woods and sing a music. Only in place of Dean Martin (no one can truly change you, Dino! ) it could be Joaquin Phoenix, and rather than sipping punch and singing “Silver Bells, ” he would present supporting actor. (Though, honestly, I would sit through 3 hours of anything when there was even the slightest chance of seeing Joaquin Phoenix drink a little punch and perform “Silver Bells. ”)

Then, as he exited, he could exchange just a little socially distant banter along with Laura Dern, who simply happened to drop in to existing another award.

I have long thought that all the thing the Oscars needs most is one of those older Christmas special sets, with the cool living room sofa, the child grand and that front door through which all the guests enter. Specifically this year, when, until recently, so many of us have been not able to cross any threshold yet our own. What better way to capture the mood associated with “opening up”?


But it would work only if there is a host, and this year there is not one. Because there are no serves in movies, except, of course , in “Parasite” (cue laughing Brendan Fraser gif. ) On the other hand, after the year we have had, the sight of a bunch of movie stars in fancy clothes may be enough to hold our attention for the length of “The Irishman, ” with or without big viewers, all the nominees did extremely fine work that should get to be recognized.

More important, the people who will be honored Weekend night have already achieved something no other group of Oscar nominees ever has. In a time of international crisis, when a lot of their colleagues were worried about box office, big screens and the threat of loading services, they bravely kept the film industry going even when theaters were closed.

And that was definitely an Oscar-worthy functionality.