By Alex Ben Block
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 3/1/07 – Only 36 percent of those watching the 2007 Academy Awards broadcast on ABC were male according to Nielsen ratings, tying the show’s all time lowest popularity among men.
The movie industry’s biggest night is now primarily aimed at only half the population, capping the potential audience, and even driving some viewers away. Indeed, the largest movie-going audience is young men, an audience segment effectively disenfranchised on this years’ Oscarcast.
It may actually be worse than that. This year’s telecast arguably put straight men off the show and the Motion Picture Academy needs to take note of the gender imbalance in the telecast. This is not a knock on the charms of Ellen DeGeneres but it does raise questions about what second-time producer Laura Ziskin was thinking. She produced an elegant show but she is also the one who determined which categories to announce and she set the pacing of the over-stuffed telecast, like a vain lady trying to fit into a dress three sizes too small.
Ziskin had said before the telecast that it would not come in at the budgeted length of three hours. In fact it ran nearly four hours. None of the major awards were presented until nearly an hour in, which came after three hours plus of pre-show fashion coverage and pseudo-analysis about whose glad rags were the best, across on multiple channels. It is no surprise that tested the patience of straight males who just want to know who won.
This year the 36 percent of men who watched, compared to 64 percent women, was the lowest percentage of male viewing since the 2003 ratings freefall when Oscar bottomed out with only 30,440,000 total viewers, the least of any year since 1992.
The Oscars hit the modern high water mark for total viewers in 1998 when 48,283,000 adults watched James Cameron’s hugely popular Titanic lift all boats and the audience up to 48,283,000 viewers, 38 percent of whom were men.
This year 36, 263,000 people watched, according to Nielsen Media Research ratings supplied to “Hollywood Today” by ABC. And that was considered a victory of sorts. The Oscar ratings were up from last year’s 35,776,000. However, the percentage of men watching drifted down from 38 percent last year to 36 percent.
That isn’t huge, as an ABC rep pointed out, “The pattern’s been remarkably consistent over the past 15 years, with Women comprising between 60-64% of the overall adult audience for the “Oscars,” and Men making up between 36-40%.”
However, there is a long term downward drift in both overall viewing and the percentage of men watching that to me is a signal something is out of balance because the Oscars have turned into the black tie Estrogen Olympics.
Even DeGeneres’ much-discussed bit where she joked about Oscar hosting duties by vacuuming the stairs left many men scratching their heads. As women everywhere will attest, the words hosting and cleaning are far from synonymous to the average guy throwing a party.
In a multi channel world, the “Academy Awards,” like the “Superbowl” and apparently every episode of “American Idol,” are among the few things that families watch together. For some straight dads and sons, however, the whole presentation of this year’s Academy Awards seemed out of whack. It was as if “Oscar” had morphed into an episode of “Ellen.” Instead of Ellen DeGeneres adapting to the form, the show had adapted to Ellen’s style.
Or as the web site AfterEllen.com breathlessly reported the day after the show: “It was a very lesbian Oscars this year: not only was the year’s biggest award show hosted by an out lesbian, but Melissa Etheridge took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and Jodie Foster was a presenter. (Dame Judi Dench was also nominated for her role as a predatory lesbian in “Notes on a Scandal,” but lost to Helen Mirren for “The Queen.”).”
The whole affair reminded me of the name of the show within a show on the comedy series “30 Rock.” The mythical late night sketch program is called “The Girly Show.” That would have been a more apt title for this year’s Academy Awards.
I am for equal everything for everyone regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation. But as a straight man, “The Oscar Girly Show” still put me off. I understand women are finally rising to the highest levels of society, from Senator Clinton to Condi Rice, and I celebrate that right along with them. But if they want to fix the Oscar ratings, then the Academy and ABC need to deal with the growing gender gap in how the show is presented, as well as the nauseating overload of commercials for women’s products
Of course the ideal would be to have an Academy Awards featuring the movies that the majority of Americans have actually seen. That isn’t easy to do. The divide between what is popular in theaters with the popcorn buyers and what puts a glint in the cynical critics eye has never been greater. This year even the few popular nominees that did make the list like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Borat” and Eddie Murphy went home losers (and yes, I know “Pirates” won one statue out of four nominations).
The Academy may not admit it, but I believe that they have tried in recent years to push toward mainstream movies, without much success. The biggest change was in the date of the show. By moving it up a month, they created a much shorter period for industry screenings and lobbying guild voters. That shorter period works against smaller and lesser known movies and stars who need to get noticed.
While some said the pre-nomination period would be pushed back along with the show, it hasn’t worked out that way. No matter what trade ads a studio buys, no one really pays attention to the awards races until after Christmas and New Year. So moving it back really shortens the time to campaign which helps those who are already well known.
Unfortunately, moving the date up didn’t really make much difference to which movies were nominated. The Academy still ends up picking mostly movies nobody has seen outside of a few big cities. Among the best picture nominees this year the only one that had significant box office success was “The Departed,” and even that didn’t gross over $100 million, an industry benchmark for blockbusters, prior to winning the award.
Fixing the gender gap won’t be nearly as difficult. You just need to inject more of a straight male point of view in to the mix. You will still get the women who want to see the fashions and the cult movie lovers. However, with the right producer, the right host, some topical edgy humor and better pacing, the Oscars could be for everyone once again.
The Golden Globes have done a much better job of achieving balance. They have pared their show down to the glamour and the awards and not much else. They manage to get on and off the air on time, and space out the hottest awards to keep everyone interested. It can be done Academy, if you and your producer really want to grow the audience.
The most important thing to attract men is a different kind of humor. I understand the Academy is loathe to let the host joke about politics, the war, Britney Spears, Anna Nicole’s demise, or lots of other hot issues. But if they want the show to be more than a ladies tea party, they have to find more balance and take a few creative risks beyond the design of the set. That means a host who will bring the viewing audience back to the real world as the show progresses with a telling observation about some nonsense that just took place. The best hosts, from Bob Hope to Billy Crystal, could inject a witty, timely barb that elicited laughs while putting things in context and cutting fools down to size.
So this is a plea for the Academy to achieve more of a yin and yang balance, a natural force that equals things out, in next year’s show. That means increasing the appeal for men, while still hugging tightly to your bosom those acquisitive 18-to-49 year-old women, their moms and sisters, who are so dear to advertisers.
Just as in the multi-plex, success will come when you have something for everyone.