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Oscars TV ratings bounce back with Hugh Jackman as host

February 23, 2009 |  4:45 pm

The reinvention of the Oscars by first-time producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark revived viewer interest in the Academy Awards with a corresponding 13% increase in the overnight Nielsens compared with last year's lowest-rated telecast ever. Ratings for the recent Grammy Awards and American Music Awards were also up this year.

Last month's Golden Globes had fewer viewers than usual (14.9 million), but that was still a big jump from the 6 million who tuned in to watch the scaled-back, starless news conference staged to unveil winners last year during the writers strike. Combined, all of these numbers suggest that the downward ratings trend for all top award shows in recent years may finally be reversed.

Oscars_tv_ratings_edited1

With A-lister Hugh Jackman hosting the Oscars for the first time and the promise of much more star power appearing as presenters and performers, producers hoped all this would compensate for the lack of a huge box-office draw like "The Dark Knight" in the top races. Last night's big winner with eight Oscars including best picture — "Slumdog Millionaire" — has yet to break through the $100-million mark at the domestic box office.

Variety reported: "One year after the Academy Awards telecast tumbled to its smallest audience on record (32 million), viewership surged by 13% to 36.3 million. Audience peaked during the 10 p.m. ET half-hour, which included Heath Ledger's posthumous victory.

"In total viewership, the Oscars telecast this season lags only the Super Bowl and football's AFC Championship on CBS (40.65 million). The most-watched seg of "American Idol," the season premiere, drew 30.42 million, while the most popular scripted telecast (the season preem of CBS' 'CSI') averaged 23.48 million.

"This year's Oscar audience also tops the 2003 show (33.0 million) but is nonetheless the third-smallest for the ceremony in the past 40 years. It stands as the most-watched entertainment telecast since the 2007 Academy Awards (40.17 million), outdrawing all episodes of Fox's 'American Idol' each of the previous two seasons."

The highest-rated Academy Awards telecast of the last 15 years was for 1997 when "Titanic" swept all the awards, winning a record-tying 11 Oscars. Over 57 million tuned in and the show earned a 35.2 rating. Even the longest telecast in Oscars history — the 2001 show which ran 4 hours and 23 minutes before "A Beautiful Mind" finally won best picture — drew 40 million viewers. That was the first Oscars from the Kodak Theatre and the last of the four hosted to date by Whoopi Goldberg.

The first Oscar telecast was of the 25th anniversary show on March 19, 1953, and aired on NBC hosted — no surprise — by Bob Hope. The big surprise that night was when "The Greatest Show on Earth" won best picture besting, among other, "High Noon." Ratings for the Oscars were socko for decades on end. The highest rated of the last 30 years was for 1982 ("Gandhi" won best picture but "E.T." was a nominee) which came in at 38.0 with a 59 share while the broadcast for 1977 ("Annie Hall" won best picture but "Star Wars" was a nominee) rated 36.3 but drew a 68 share.

"Oscar is still the king of kudos," notes Television Week about the latest Nielsens. "The show’s audience of 36.3 million viewers topped this year’s Golden Globes on NBC by 21.4 million viewers and CBS’ Grammy Awards by 17.3 million."

David Watkin: cinematography winner, "Out of Africa" (1985)

James Whitmore: supporting actor nominee, "Battleground" (1949); lead actor nominee, "Give 'em Hell Harry" (1975)

Richard Widmark: supporting actor nominee, "Kiss of Death" (1947)

Stan Winston: makeup and visual effects winner, "Terminator 2" (1991); visual effects winner, "Jurassic Park" (1993); makeup nominee, "Heartbeeps" (1982), "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), "Batman Returns" (1992); visual effects nominee, "Predator" (1987), "The Lost World" (1997), "A.I." (2001).

Photos: Buena Vista, MGM

David Watkin: cinematography winner, "Out of Africa" (1985)

James Whitmore: supporting actor nominee, "Battleground" (1949); lead actor nominee, "Give 'em Hell Harry" (1975)

Richard Widmark: supporting actor nominee, "Kiss of Death" (1947)

Stan Winston: makeup and visual effects winner, "Terminator 2" (1991); visual effects winner, "Jurassic Park" (1993); makeup nominee, "Heartbeeps" (1982), "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), "Batman Returns" (1992); visual effects nominee, "Predator" (1987), "The Lost World" (1997), "A.I." (2001).

Photos: Buena Vista, MGM

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Photo: L.A. Times

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