Oscars Ratings Woes Continue

91st Annual Academy Awards, Show, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019

This year’s Oscars should have been a win for Hollywood, but trouble still follows Hollywood’s once prestigious annual event.

According to preliminary figures, ratings for the 91st Academy Awards were up slightly. Unfortunately, it is not enough to assuage anxiety over the awards show’s downward trend.

The second host-less Academy Awards ended up having the second-smallest audience in Oscar history. Audience size for this year was 28 million, according to the calculations of The Hollywood Reporter. This figure is up about 6 percent over the disastrous Kimmel-hosted show’s preliminary ratings of the previous year. Viewer-ship size was based on a 20.1 rating/33 share in metered-market households.

In 2018 box-office revenues seemed to have ticked up, and a lot of folks who were watching this year’s show had actually seen three of the Best Picture nominees: “Black Panther,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “A Star is Born.” “Panther” took in a haul of more than $700 million in domestic gross, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star is Born” each earned over $200 million. The success of the cinematic trio should have been enough to garner a larger audience than had been seen in the past few years.

It has been downright gloomy for those following the trend in ratings for the Academy Awards show. The overall concern over whether the Oscars were losing their allure was palpable. Last year’s show, which was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, fell double digits from the previous year, sinking to the lowest ratings level for the show ever.

Although the ratings of all awards shows have been on the decline, Disney-owned ABC had to have been alarmed when it learned that viewer-ship for the 2018 Oscar show had dropped 25 percent in the key 18 to 49 demographic.

This year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tried a number of different things to give the sagging ratings a jumpstart. It released a series of proposals, all of which received significant backlash with the end result being the same – a cave by the Academy at the first sign of pushback.

In late 2018, the Academy came up with an idea for a new category that would grant awards to “popular” films. The thinking was to try and include nominees and winners that movie fans simply adored, thereby creating more buzz and bringing in more viewers. The blowback by film artists of all types was fierce, and the Academy relented.

The Academy tried picking a popular host that might prove to be a ratings magnet. It reached out to the highest paid actor currently in the industry, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. However, The Rock’s shooting schedule got in the way so the pick was a no-go.

Oscar leadership then turned to another popular Hollywood figure, Kevin Hart. The attempt to secure the mega-successful comedic actor turned into a PR debacle for the Academy. Hart had a decade-old tweet history that came back to haunt him. Once again the leadership couldn’t handle the flack that it received. CEO Dawn Hudson reportedly telephoned Hart to ask him to apologize for his past Twitter posts. This infuriated Hart, and he ended up withdrawing from the hosting gig, leading to the decision to broadcast a host-less telecast for the first time since 1989.

Then there was the time issue. For years, ABC-Disney had been pleading with the Academy to shorten the length of the Oscar telecast. The Academy leadership came up with an arrangement to abbreviate the normally long-winded telecast by awarding four of the ceremony’s prizes during the commercial breaks and then craftily editing the award winners into a later show slot.

Although the Academy believed that consensus for the plan could be developed by showing representatives from various branches a video demonstration of the newly conceived format, a high profile rebellion caused the Academy to reverse itself. Major creative players in movies, which included Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino, signed an open letter condemning the idea. A few short days later the Academy melted.

Producers of this year’s show were able to cut 35 minutes from the overall length, when compared to the previous year. This was done by eliminating montages and mid-telecast comedy. However, the telecast still ended up being about 3 hours and 20 minutes long.

A December 2018 Morning Consult/The Hollywood Reporter survey found that ABC and the Academy were correct in their attempt to shorten the Oscar telecast. Forty-eight percent of adults said the Oscars telecast was too long.

A close second in annoyance terms to the overly long airtime of the Oscar show is the political content that is being pushed by Hollywood celebrities. The poll indicates that 39 percent of adults are less likely to watch awards shows when celebrities express their political views, and the number rises to 59 percent when viewers self-identify as Republicans.

Reportedly, in addition to the perpetually failing effort to shorten the duration of acceptance speeches at the Oscars, the Academy and producers of the telecast were apparently working hard behind the scenes to convince presenters and recipients of the awards to leave their politics at home.

Well, it didn’t work. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph, the first group of presenters at the awards show, joked about the proposed “popular” film category, and apparently Rudolph could not restrain herself from tossing a political barb into her intro punch line.

“We are not your hosts,” Fey was quick to explain. Rudolph interrupted saying, “So just a quick update in case you’re confused. There is no host tonight, there will be no popular movie category and Mexico is not paying for the wall.”

Other presenters were quick to follow suit. While introducing the Best Foreign Language Film winner, actor Javier Bardem, who delivered his remarks in Spanish, took a veiled swipe at President Trump’s border security measures.

ABC translated Bardem’s speech in the following way: “There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity or talent. In any region of any continent, there are always great stories that move us. And tonight, we celebrate the excellence and importance of the cultures and languages of different countries.”

Following Bardem’s comments, comedian Keegan Michael Key placed an open umbrella on the ground, imitating the president’s actions in 2018 prior to boarding Air Force One.

During his acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, director Spike Lee jumped into campaign mode in making a pitch for the 2020 presidential election, saying, “Let’s make the right choice, let’s be on the right side of history.”

“The 2020 election is right around the corner,” Lee said.

Fifteen Minutes of Shame

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“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

This familiar quote, which is attributed to Andy Warhol, has resulted in a modern, truncated version of the concept that everyone will eventually receive his or her time in the spotlight. It also reflects how fragile and fleeting celebrity status has become and just how fickle the present-day public has trended.

In the age of social media, though, another phenomenon has been taking shape online, and Warhol’s iconic words are being subjected to a warped parallel paraphrasing. The twisted Warhol-ism that has emerged is the following: “In the future, everyone will be forced to suffer through his or her 15 minutes of shame.”

In today’s digital world, a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram mob is able to publicly humiliate a well known, or even not so well known, individual or group for alleged acts or statements, thereby detrimentally affecting occupation, reputation, and/or social life.

Social media shaming can result in an instantaneous career end and destructive ramifications for anyone who is the unfortunate recipient of it.

Embarrassment is an intensely negative universal human experience, which is tethered to a fundamental need to be accepted into a circle, respected by its members, and loved for who we are. The thought of losing any of these basic necessities is a terrifying prospect, and it can create a desperation within an individual or group of individuals that is unlike any other misfortune that may befall us.

For a while now, particularly within the social media realm, individuals as well as groups have been going about weaponizing social media technology via memes and bots as a means of magnifying a digital footprint and amplifying a message. This is routinely done deceptively so as to give the impression that the representative numbers are significantly greater than they actually are.

When combined with the type of hyper-political correctness that is being promulgated by various activist groups, these social media activities pose an unprecedented threat to free expression, and perhaps even more perilous, an assault on the psyche.

The latest large-scale episode of social media shaming occurred when comedic actor Kevin Hart was compelled to withdraw from hosting the 2019 Oscars. Hart pulled out of the hosting gig after he and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received the social media shaming treatment over jokes that he had posted in the distant past.

Immediately after it was publicly reported that Hart would host the industry’s most prestigious awards show, the virtual walk of shame began. Posts cited select archived comedy routines and tweets, which featured the comedian joking about trying to stop his son from becoming gay.

Reportedly, the Academy urged Hart to apologize for the past posts, but he refused, stating that he’d already apologized.

“I’ve addressed it,” Hart said in an Instagram post. “… I’m not going to continue to tap into the past when I’ve moved on and I’m in a completely different space in my life.”

Hart eventually did express contrition in a later tweet, stating, “I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.” He explained that the reason he was withdrawing from hosting duties was so that he would not “be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists.”

In a surprising twist, Ellen DeGeneres is now in the social media crosshairs. In an attempt to try and reinstate Hart as the host of the 91st Academy Awards, the daytime talk show host acted as a mediator of sorts between Hart and the Academy.

During a recent episode of her syndicated daytime talk show, one in which Hart appeared and gave his first interview on the subject, DeGeneres disclosed that she had talked with Academy officials and suggested that they bring Hart back as Academy Awards host. She also told Hart and her viewing audience that the Oscar leadership would still like Hart to be the host.

“It was an attack,” Hart told DeGeneres. “This wasn’t an accident, this wasn’t a coincidence. …To go through 40,000 tweets to get back to 2008? That’s an attack. That’s a malicious attack on my character.”

Hart added, “That’s an attack to end me. That’s not an attack to end the Oscars, that’s an attack to end me.” He continued in his expression of indignation and defense of his character.

“This was to destroy me. This was to end all partnerships, all brand relationships, all investment opportunities, studio relationships, my production company and the people who work underneath me. This was to damage the lives that had been invested in me. It’s bigger than just the Oscars. It’s about the individuals who are out there now that are finding success in damage. They’re finding success in damaging your ‘celebrity,’” Hart explained.

It turns out that in a prior stand-up routine, Hart had shared, “One of my biggest fears is my son growing up and being gay … If I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”

In a past post, Hart had also used his Twitter account to jokingly tweet that he would hit his son with his daughter’s dollhouse if he ever caught him playing with it. He additionally told Rolling Stone in 2015 that he intended these particular jokes to be self-deprecating.

“The funny thing within that joke is it’s me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities,” Hart said. “I panicked. It has nothing to do with him, it’s about me.”

It appears as though the digital powers that be have decided it is now Degeneres’s turn to take to the shame stage. She is presently being targeted by the social media, in part, for venturing into the truth about today’s internet culture.

“There are so many haters out there,” DeGeneres said. “Whatever is going on on the internet, don’t pay attention to them. That’s a small group of people being very, very loud.”

Oscars with an Agenda

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Over time the entertainment industry and its accompanying award shows seem to have grown ever more political, and the 90th Academy Awards ceremony looks as if it will prove to be consistent with the left-leaning trend.

The Oscars event is ostensibly designed to provide recognition to the highest achievement of motion picture artistry and has conventionally been viewed as the pinnacle of award shows. This year, however, Hollywood has a number of attendant things on its collective mind, including having to atone for a host of industry wide offenses.

Nominations for Best Picture are illustrative of the ideological and cultural issues that are stoking Academy voters’ choices. A few years back the industry was assailed by critics, via a social media hashtag, with an accusation that the Academy lacked diversity in its list of nominees.

This year’s awards season has been under assault by another hashtag, which includes references to the sexual impropriety scandals that have shaken the entertainment capital to its core.

Typically during the awards season, movie studios engage in the equivalent of a political campaign complete with press releases, advertising, and opposition research.

Ironically, Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul accused of sexual misconduct by scores of women, was consistently a seminal figure of the pre-Oscar season and was frequently able to assist his companies in securing Oscar wins. In the aftermath of the serious charges, though, he was fired from the Weinstein Company, booted out of the Academy, and banished from the film business.

In the past, he was also reportedly alleged to have engaged in opposition research in order to diminish the prospects of the film “A Beautiful Mind,” which was competing at the time with the Miramax movie “In the Bedroom.” He purportedly leaked rumors to the press that central subject of the film John Nash was anti-Semitic.

Movie companies routinely use film advertisements that are tagged with the phrase “for your consideration,” seek press coverage, send voters direct mailers, set up star appearances at key industry events, hold lavish parties, and arrange screenings for voters through use of studio lot theaters, distribution of DVDs and downloads of respective films.

For months the campaigning for the 2018 Academy Awards has been in full motion, but the activity has primarily taken the form of studios and production companies touting the current political and cultural significance of their movies.

Best picture nominee, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” is a case in point. After the film debuted at the Venice International Film Festival and won the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film critic community anointed the movie as a favorite in the award races.

The plot centers around perceived liberal concerns embodied in the hashtag haze that hangs over Hollywood. It may be that Oscar trophies were on the minds of filmmakers who put together a story of a mother railing against a sexist, racist, and patriarchal police force.

Some critics were less than enthusiastic about the seemingly superficiality of the politically correct plotlines of the movie.

Ira Madison III of The Daily Beast characterized the movie as “tone-deaf,” “manipulative,” and “altogether offensive.”

And Wesley Morris of The New York Times referenced the “Three Billboards” filmmakers’ Oscar pandering in the following manner: “The issues of the day come and go: brutal police, sexual predators, targeted advertising. It’s like a set of postcards from a Martian lured to America by a cable news ticker and by rumors of how easily flattered and provoked we are.”

Meanwhile another Best Picture nominee, “The Shape of Water,” which could also take the award, is a highly original movie concept but its creators apparently could not avoid shoehorning into the plot societal issues that may be on the minds of many Oscar voters. It is no coincidence that the female protagonist, Best Actress nominee Sally Hawkins, who has fallen in love with an underwater being, is provided assistance with her romantic goals by an African-American co-worker and gay neighbor.

Other Best Picture nominees sport themes that seek to attract Oscar voters. “Get Out,” a horror genre film from Jordan Peele, contains subject matter that depicts racism and cultural appropriation, while Steven Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers movie, “The Post,” glorifies the press for standing up to attacks and features a noble and powerful female business head.

The fact that the substance of would-be Oscar winning films is so culturally and politically correct is an indication that the 90th Academy Awards show, which is slated for March 4, will no doubt be saturated with a kind of sermonizing that is likely to have Americans briskly switching channels.

Franco a Fiasco for the Oscars?

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Hollywood is a land of contradictions.

In the aftermath of the sexual impropriety scandal that has engulfed the entertainment capital, the Golden Globes Awards ceremony found itself immersed in the aftereffects of the #MeToo movement, with themes that took the form of black fashion dominating the designer palette, professional presentations being replaced with surreal sanctimony, and a former daytime TV queen toying with a future presidential run.

The sudden explosion of sexual harassment allegations has resulted in a string of unexpected consequences for the entertainment business, including the unceremoniously exiling from the Academy of former Oscar master Harvey Weinstein and the digitally redacting of actor Kevin Spacey from an Oscar hopeful film “All the Money in the World.”

It is expected that the Oscars telecast will follow the lead of the other awards shows and make Hollywood’s sex scandals a frazzled thread woven throughout the proceedings.

Of concern for the Academy, though, is something involving actor James Franco, who in taking home a Globe award managed to increase the awards season buzz for his chances of also snagging an Oscar. Franco additionally won the Best Actor award at the Critics’ Choice Awards, boosting his inflated profile even further.

Franco is scheduled to attend the Screen Actors Guild Awards (prior to the Academy Awards) on Jan. 21, where he is nominated for lead actor.

The Hollywood star has been viewed as an actual contender, not only for a nomination for an Academy Award for his work in “The Disaster Artist,” but also as a top tier candidate for a Best Actor trophy at the Oscar telecast.

Critics are raving about Franco’s portrayal of the real-life director of “The Room,” which is said by critics and fans to be the worst film ever made.

The particular predicament for the Academy, at this extraordinary time in Hollywood history, are some allegations that have been raised against Franco concerning sexually inappropriate behavior. Five women have accused him of inappropriate or sexually exploitative conduct, according to an investigation by The Los Angeles Times.

Franco may regret his decision at the Golden Globe ceremony to wear a pin that supported Time’s Up, the initiative recently formed by 300 women in the entertainment industry with the ostensible purpose of combating workplace sexual harassment. The sight of Franco’s donning of the pin during the Globe telecast prompted several women to call out the actor via their Twitter accounts.

Two of the women cited by the L.A. Times sent out tweets, as did actress Ally Sheedy, who posted the following: “James Franco just won. Please never ask me why I left the film/tv business.”

The actress had appeared in the “The Long Shrift,” a 2014 off-Broadway production that Franco directed. Sheedy subsequently deleted the tweet.

Franco has denied the allegations. Whether or not he receives a nomination will be decided by the actors’ branch of the Academy, which is the largest group of voters, with over 1,200 members.

Nominations are scheduled to be announced on Jan. 23, and Franco will be facing some stiff competition from other heralded A-list actors, including Gary Oldman for “The Darkest Hour,” Denzel Washington for “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” Timothee Chalamet for “Call me By Your Name,” Daniel Day-Lewis for “Phantom Thread,” and Daniel Kaluuya for “Get Out.”

There was a great deal of consternation when another actor, Casey Affleck, took the Academy Award for Best Actor last year for his performance in “Manchester by the Sea,” despite the fact that he had two sexual harassment suits that he settled out of court.

But that was long before the Weinstein story broke and changed Hollywood forever.

Hollywood Picks ‘Man Show’ Kimmel to Host Post-Weinstein Oscars

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It is difficult to decipher what exactly is driving some of Hollywood’s questionable decisions of late.

On the heels of the entertainment industry’s choice of Anita Hill as sexual harassment czar, the announcement that former co-host of “The Man Show” and current late-night political pawn Jimmy Kimmel will once again take the Oscar stage as host of the show.

This will be Kimmel’s second consecutive year as emcee, despite the fact that the results of his last go-round were anything but stellar. The telecast scored low ratings, and there was the infamous gaffe in which “La La Land” was mistakenly announced as the winner for Best Picture, when in fact “Moonlight” was the movie that had taken the top spot.

It could be that Kimmel’s recent hyper-political correctness caught the attention of the Academy, particularly when he jettisoned comedy to do opinion pieces on controversial political topics, including health care and gun control. He purposely used his show to lobby against the effort of the Republican Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, and he received the gratitude of many on the left for helping to thwart the legislation.

CNN went so far as to declare that Kimmel was “America’s conscience.” Oddly, though, the would-be moral authority has been largely silent about the Weinstein scandal and its many offshoots.

There is a good reason for Kimmel’s reluctance to speak. Before he became the darling of the left, Kimmel and fellow comic Adam Carolla created and co-hosted “The Man Show,” a highly sexualized program, which aired on Comedy Central from 1999 until 2003.

Frequently engaging in the objectification of women and showcasing some racially-charged sketches, in a segment from one of the programs Kimmel approached women on the street and asked them to guess what he had inside his pants.

“I’ve stuffed something in my pants, and you’re allowed to feel around on the outside of the pants. You’ll have 10 seconds to then guess what is in my pants,” he said to a woman, adding that she “should use two hands.”

Kimmel later asked another female participant to “put her mouth on it,” and he made sure that another woman was at least 18 years old because “Uncle Jimmy doesn’t need to do time.”

When one of his contestants was touching him in a more aggressive manner, he told her that she was “gonna make a fine wife.”

At the end of the skit, Kimmel revealed that what he had stuffed in his pants was a zucchini with a rubber band on it.

Other crude segments featured on “The Man Show” included a faux commercial for “Bosom Springs,” a fictitious company that provided water for wet T-shirts, and a “Juggy Talent Show” in which women in sparse swimwear attire would demonstrate their implicitly sexual “talents.”

In other shows, Kimmel can be seen asking individuals he encounters on the street if they would show their underwear and enlisting advice from porn stars on domestic chores.

For the first decade or so of his ABC late-night gig, Kimmel stayed away from controversial topics and became well known for his comedic fare, including pulling practical jokes on Hollywood stars or having celebrities read mean tweets about themselves.

A politically charged Kimmel emerged in early 2017, when, after being fed Democrat talking points from Sen. Chuck Schumer, began attacking GOP legislative proposals. He also politicized the deadly Las Vegas shooting to launch into a gun control rant.

Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, which owns ABC, noticed Kimmel’s departure from comedy and excursion into activism.

“That show is to entertain,” Iger told The New York Times.

Then the Hollywood executive said something that Kimmel would be wise to pay attention to as he readies himself for the upcoming Oscar hosting gig.

Iger advised, “I think he should be careful.”