Leading the attack is The Times' own esteemed columnist Patrick Goldstein but he is hardly alone.
The Academy Awards still draws numbers that would be the envy of any other awards show.
We've heard all the excuses for a 21% drop from last year: writers strike woes, downer films, non-existent movie stars, too foreign a list of nominees, who is Jon Stewart?
Bottom line is 32 million people tuned in overall and many more millions than that around the world. Plus the combined grosses of the five films nominated for best picture hit $100 million in the month between nomination announcements and the final awards, a whopping increase from last year.
Oscar still has it. And yet the Golden Boy still remains every pundit's favorite punching bag.
Some would say the show itself is the problem and needs to be "younged" down (and probably dumbed down). Goldstein says the technical awards must go. We've heard this before. In fact, we hear it every year like clockwork when the usual Oscar bashing begins.
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First, let's make it clear: Calls for the academy to drop the below-the-line categories (i.e. sound, editing, makeup, art direction, costumes, etc.) from the telecast are a non-starter. NOT going to happen, not in this lifetime.
Any changes like that would have to be approved by the acad's Board of Governors, an august body that is made up mostly from members of those very branches Goldstein and his peers would like to banish from prime-time. It's our guess that a suggestion they be relegated to a cable broadcast, fronted by stars of "Superbad" who could apparently make viewers forget they are being force-fed acceptance speeches by lowly cinematographers and hair stylists, is going to fall on deaf ears and we aren't talking just elderly acad members in this instance.
It's called the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and for 80 years has had a mission to honor just what its title implies. In fact, the academy already has one separate show it produces each year for scientific and technical awards. Do we need a third? Or should we just throw any below-the-line Oscars into that one, let Jessica Alba host (as she did this year for the sci/techs), give them all a one-minute recap on the big show and knock at least 90 minutes off the running time?
Aside from insulting the contributions of some of the world's greatest film artists, what would this accomplish? It would certainly eliminate the need for several star presenters, which also means less viewer-friendly glamour, gowns and jewels on the red carpet. Plus it would pretty effectively put the Oscar office pool business out to pasture. What could we bet on if all that is left are a few marquee categories that just about anyone could guess? And don't kid yourself, fans love to bet on the "contest" as much as the Super Bowl.
Speaking of that, sports fan Goldstein suggests the academy turn the show over to producers from ESPN or Fox where the "best innovation and new ideas come from." That would apparently include gutting the show as it is now and making it fast and flashy enough to hold the dwindling attention span of today's mass audience.
We kinda like the "tradition" of the Oscars the way they are now, Patrick. Why do we have to mess with something that has held its own since the days of silent movies?
Hey, we are sort of bored by baseball but we aren't asking you to cut three innings off every game or eliminate one strike and two balls from every at bat even though that would definitely move things along. How about making the Indy 500 the Indy 5 instead?
Critics are saying the show needs "innovations." But doesn't the academy keep doing that?
It tried presenting some of the tech awards in the audience to save time. It combined the song numbers in the past, once even dropping the songs altogether. It eliminated presenter patter, then brought it back, then eliminated it, then brought it back again!
It has had movie stars host, comedians host, multiple hosts. Cameras are placed backstage to catch off-the-cuff reactions from the winners. Reporter Chris Connelly even did a running "analysis" of the horse race last year. It tried playing music under acceptance speeches to make them snazzier ... and on and on and on.
Some suggest producer Gil Cates is the problem but even in the many years he doesn't do the show, the complaints are always the same.
So far there have been very few pundit suggestions that the academy hasn't tried in some form or other, other than eliminating categories, which we repeat is NOT going to happen.
Bottom line is you can give only as good as you get and sometimes the academy just doesn't "get" the movies America wants to see honored. "Titanic" doesn't come along every year. Still, even when there are less popular titles, Oscar has never gone completely in the toilet. Can anyone remember a single year in which the Academy Awards was not the No. 1 entertainment show of the week, or even in most cases, the year? Yes, we know the "American Idol" season premiere got bigger numbers but that show doesn't have to figure out how to make documentary short subjects compelling to Oklahomans.
Certainly there is lots of room for "innovation" and change and inevitably we will get more of it next year after the board does its usual post-mortem. Academy President Sid Ganis has one of the smartest marketing minds in the business but you have to play with the cards you are dealt.
Here's a suggestion. Stop letting the orchestra drown winners out after 45 seconds. And get more spontaneity among presenters by actually making them announce the names of nominees live onstage instead of the too perfect, pre-taped package that all kudos shows do now. Some of the best moments occur when nervous actors screw up.
One of the all-time funniest bits on any award show came on an Emmy telecast in the mid '70s when Lucille Ball lost her glasses and could not find the right envelope in order to announce the winner of best comedy series.
Above all, don't forget what the show is really about -- movies. As Ganis reiterated during the bleakest days of the strike, the Oscars are first and foremost about honoring all the people who have done the best work of the year in motion pictures and that ratings or not, stars or not, red carpet or not, that show would go on.
In other words, even though it's broadcast on television, it's not a TV show.
Since 1953 and the first broadcast on NBC, the academy has been inviting viewers into its industry celebration and we're just glad, hi-def warts and all, that it's still letting us crash the party.
Ah, The Season just wouldn't be The Season without the trials and tribulations of Oscar.