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Oscars ratings highest in five years

March 8, 2010 |  3:11 pm

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The doubling of the best picture nominees revived viewer interest in the Academy Awards, which enjoyed a 14% increase in the overnight Nielsen numbers compared to last year's Oscars. About 41.3 million Americans saw "The Hurt Locker" take home the top prize, an increase of 5 million viewers over 2009 when "Slumdog Millionaire" won and the Oscars hosted by Hugh Jackman earned a rating of 21.68.

This was the one piece of good news Monday for first-time Oscars producers Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, who saw their show beset by bad reviews. They benefited from the upward trend in ratings for all awards shows. And the avid interest in "Avatar" no doubt drew new viewers to the Oscars.

Although James Cameron's 3-D epic won only three technical Oscars, it  just topped $700 million at the domestic box office. The film it displaced from the No. 1 spot in box office history -- "Titanic" -- swept the Oscars in 1997, winning a record-tying 11 Oscars.That was the highest-rated Academy Awardstelecast of the last 15 years with viewership topping 57 million, earning a rating of 35.32.

The last time Steve Martin hosted was in 2003 for the 75th Oscars. Despite the hoopla surrounding the diamond anniversary, the show registered a then-record low rating of 20.58. That meant just 33 million tuned in to see "Chicago" win best picture. That record was broken in 2008 as a rating of 18.66 translated into just under 32 million watching "No Country for Old Men" win the best picture award at the end of the Jon Stewart-hosted broadcast.

The first Oscars telecast was of the 25th anniversary show on March 19, 1953. It aired on NBC and was hosted -- no surprise -- by Bob Hope. The big surprise that night was when "The Greatest Show on Earth" won best picture,  besting "High Noon."

Ratings for the Oscars were socko for decades. 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.

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