Our long national nightmare is over. The bloodletting, aka the 2011 Academy Awards, is a painful memory. For goodness' sake, James Franco's slice of wry humor as Oscar host had about as much humor as James Franco slicing off his arm in 127 Hours.
"I just got a text message from Charlie Sheen," deadpanned Franco, dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Paging Ricky Gervais.
Every possible excuse was offered to account for the dull performances by Franco and his co-host Anne Hathaway. But the numbers speak the truth. In the coveted demographic of 18 to 49 year olds, the kudocast went down in history as the second least-watched since Nielsen started tracking back in 1992. There's also a fair amount of data to back up the fact that the show's content (or lack thereof) played a big role in the decline. Traditionally, the Oscars grab new viewers as the show progresses. But this year, as the awards gained in importance, viewership lost viewers. In other words, people simply gave up on the show.
There's no time like the present to deal with the future, so here are a few ideas for 2012:
1. Have some respect for the movies. I was initially skeptical of the Academy's decision to double its Best Picture nominees from five to 10, but I'm a believer now. This year, the 10 nominees were all deserving. Yet there was scant mention of Inception, Toy Story 3 or True Grit, all box office champions. The Oscar show could easily craft tributes to each nominee, with live appearances by cast members. This one's a no-brainer, Academy. Follow the money.
2. This was the whitest Academy Awards in decades. Apart from Halle Berry, Jennifer Hudson and the almighty Oprah, the show was embarrassingly Caucasian. In speaking of Lena Horne's struggle with an all-white film industry, Berry said, "That was a very different time in Hollywood." Her remarks should have shamed the producers.
3. Do not, I repeat, do not go old-school again. Just because Franco and Hathaway failed doesn't mean that we need to slide back to Billy Crystal. Crystal was fabulous for his time. But any one of a number of contemporary comic actors could step into the spotlight: Jack Black, Sandra Bullock, Steve Carell, Robert Downey Jr., Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Seth Rogen. If none of these work for you, Academy, I have more. Call me.
4. Show the voting results. Would anyone really be insulted if once the winner picks up the Oscar and leaves the stage, we could see how the Academy voted? It's a competition. Take your noble heads out of your noble asses.
5. It's a television show, so make good television. It's not a concert, so what's wrong with showing extended scenes of films as singers warble through the Best Song nominees? Showing wide-angle camera shots of Randy Newman or Mandy Moore is pretty dull TV. And once and for all, please move the editing, makeup and sound awards to the off-camera technical ceremonies. Ultimately, the responsibility of the Academy Awards show needs to be handed over to solid television producers. Just because a film producer has a pipe dream of running the Oscarcast, doesn't mean he or she is qualified to produce three hours of primetime television. A good choice would be George Stevens Jr., producer of the always-classy Kennedy Center Honors.
6. I understand that criticizing the Oscars is almost as popular as the Oscars themselves, but this year's television ratings were troubling. The 2011 Academy Awards will be remembered for two things: the winners (Colin Firth, Natalie Portman) and the losers (the audience). Get your act together, Academy.