Is There Any Way to Save the Oscars?

Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes aren’t going to bring in the youths

If you’re planning on tuning in to the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, you’re one of the few. The Academy has already made news for its desperate attempts to court new viewers as ratings for the show have nosedived in past years—attempts that people in the industry have criticized, even as they sat back and watched helplessly like the rest of us.

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Last year’s Oscars ceremony was the least-watched in history, with only 10.4 million people watching the third consecutive hostless show. Ratings have been in steep decline for the last few years as well, as cord cutting and a lack of interest in the nominated films plagued the ceremonies.

This year’s ceremony won’t feature televised awards for documentary short, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short, live action short or sound. They’ll present these before the telecast and will edit the awarding into ceremony, in an effort to streamline the broadcast, the Academy said. Multiple guilds have condemned this move and some have even threatened to boycott the ceremony.

In addition to eliminating eight categories from the telecast, this years ceremony will also feature three hosts — Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall – as well as a new Oscar Fan Favorite award that viewers can vote for on the Academy’s site. Currently, the Camilla Cabello Cinderella film is leading the vote.

The Oscars are, first and foremost, an industry awards ceremony. That industry is a huge one with a massive audience that consumes its product, but the Academy Awards are still an industry awards ceremony. And the films and performances the members of the Academy choose to honor are often reflective of their industry, like The Artist, Argo or Judy.

While blatant attempts for viewers are nothing new for the Oscars (Jimmy Kimmel inviting “regular people” to the ceremony, Ellen DeGeneres delivering a pizza to the theater), the Oscars has become increasingly concerned with its inferiority complex. Instead of bending over backward to try to court new viewers, it could easily double down on retaining its loyal viewership. Here’s how.

Embrace the awards bait

The Academy needs to realize that the people who watch stuff like Power of the Dog and want it to win are never going to want to watch a ceremony that ignores them and caters to people who think that Camilla Cabello’s Cinderella should take home Oscar gold. What’s more, the people who have seen all of the Best Picture-nominated films actually want to see who wins Film Editing and Sound. The Academy needs to give its fans what they want. There are people out there who would gladly watch a three-hour ceremony honoring everyone. Play it up, make it a whole-day event, let people have Oscar parties. This is Super Bowl Sunday for film nerds. Cater to them. But, if you’re really wanting to make sure younger audiences tune in…

Find your Billy Crystal and check Twitter

Gone are the days when “and now, your host, Billy Crystal,” was synonymous with the Oscars. The Academy has ginned up a lot of press in recent years with hosting announcements and controversies, but it would better serve the institution if they could just find one reliable host, maybe even a non-celebrity who just knows how to run an event, and stick with them, or pool from a rotating roster of hosts.

If the Academy wants to get younger people invested in the show, hiring Schumer, Sykes and Hall isn’t going to fix that problem. Younger people don’t engage with this show for the hosts. If anything, other than the movies, it’s the memes and social media moments that get shared as the telecast happens that drive most of the online conversation. More people have probably seen that meme of Bong Joon-Ho making his Oscars kiss than have seen “Parasite.” Let the moments do the talking for the night and not the hosts.

Champion what the winners do after they win

All awards shows are largely bogus—how do you objectively rank art, anyway?—but the Oscars do serve a purpose for the film industry other than navel-gazing.

An Oscar win is a huge boon to a film’s box office, and winning awards is one of the few ways young filmmakers can get clout in the film industry to make whatever they want. If the Oscars leaned into its films and touted themselves as a launching pad for new talent instead of just self-congratulation every year, more people might be willing to tune in.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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