Oscars 2021 Thoughts

I have always enjoyed watching the Oscars, but I must say that they have seemed to really struggle for the past few years. Part of it seems to stem from this sort of existential crisis they seem caught up in, questioning why they exist and what they should do about it. It’s been rightly pointed out that the Oscars have been historically very, very white to an extent that’s made the awards more than a little problematic. So I’m all for them taking steps to try and rectify that issue. However, at the same time they’ve been doing that, they’ve also been fussing around with practically every other dial they’ve got out there. Different hosts. Multiple hosts. No hosts. Focus on films. Focus on film makers. Downplay the glamor. Hype up the glamor. Be funny. Be not funny.

And meanwhile, the ratings get worse year after year, and they keep running around wondering what they’re supposed to do to stop the ratings slide.

This year’s show was . . . not good. This isn’t really because of COVID. I went into it recognizing that social distancing was going to make for a different production, and I was okay with all of that. Yay masks. Fine with a smaller crowd. But I’d also heard they were going to focus more on films, which was also great in my book. Instead, they focused heavily on providing a little snippet of information about each nominee (typically), and then let those nominees give their acceptance speeches for almost as long as they wanted, without any orchestra to play them off the stage. There was no opening to speak of. No significant number of skits or anything to really break up anything, with the exception of a trivia thing, in memoriam, and some humanitarian awards. They even had the musical numbers for best song all done in the lead up before the actual show started.

And the event still went 17 minutes longer than it was scheduled to.

Look, I understand that the Oscars are an award show. But this one focused on the awards and really skimped on the show. I can’t imagine the vast majority of people who tuned in for a bit thought it was riveting television. Certainly not Super Bowl level of entertainment. Even a bad Super Bowl game is still more engaging than what was on the Oscars last night. “Come watch over three hours of people thanking their loved ones and giving impromptu political or social justice speeches, peppered with ads!” If you love cinema and love knowing all the ins and outs of who’s doing what, then maybe this was the bee’s knees. Or if you’ve seen all the different movies and are genuinely interested in the outcomes, then this might have been more engaging. But for the average layperson? This was Snoozeville.

To me, the answer isn’t that difficult as soon as you realize what the question is. “How in the world can we make three hours of television focused on the best movies of the past year interesting for people to watch?” Well, you start by actually focusing on the movies. Show me more clips. Heck, even showing trailers for each show would be better than giving out snippets of info about each of the nominees.

“But all these movies aren’t popular with the general public!” True. So then are we harmed at all by having the evening lean into the “movies of the past year” theme, and highlight some of the more popular movies that came out then. There’s just so much to do with movies. So many movies made. So many movies to celebrate. And instead we get a procession of people making speeches that go on for too long, in areas so many people just don’t care about.

I’m not trying to say all the awards don’t matter. I love every aspect of film making, and I do keep track of who won Best Cinematography or Sound Design, and I try to check them out, because that really interests me. But I recognize I’m in the minority. Each year there’s this pull between “The Oscars are too boring and so no one is watching them” and “But the awards really matter, and it’s important we give people the chance to make acceptance speeches.” And the more I think about it, the less I think it’s possible that those two problems can be solved. Because we just saw what a show looks like when it’s all acceptance speeches and all about the film makers, and it was the first time they’ve had under 10 million viewers.

If we keep that trend up, the Oscars won’t matter at all, because no one will watch and no one will care. (It’s already heading that way as is.)

So something has to change, and I’d be totally fine with that something being “the winners come up, get their statue, and then go backstage to make their acceptance speeches, which can be watched online or on a different channel.” Obviously that’s quite extreme, and I wouldn’t say it’s the only option. But 60 seconds of mic time and then it cuts dead no matter what might also be an approach . . .

I didn’t miss the stupid schticks they’d do before they announced each winner. The fake banter between the presenters. That’s all stuff that can be moved elsewhere. I also kind of liked having the musical numbers peppered in the pre-show, just to free up some more air time. But all that air time can be filled with things other than “people talking about stuff most people don’t care about,” even if it’s stuff the people involved with really care a lot about.

Let’s put it this way: when I was growing up, the Oscars was an event. I’d stay up late for it and look forward to it each year. My kids tuned out this year about fifteen minutes in. It was just too boring. That’s a bad sign, if I’m in the “I want the Oscars to matter” crowd . . .

What did you think about the show? Did you even watch it?

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