When anyone talks about Oscar ratings, they inevitably mention the Super Bowl -- as in “the Oscar telecast is second only to the Super Bowl.” So why is it that when critics and pundits write their inevitable “how to fix the Oscar telecast” piece, we never seem to address the actual competition? This year, Super Bowl ratings broke all records, not surprising since the game had not only the draw of the Manning dynasty but also all the inspirational back story of New Orleans. Not since Notre Dame won it for the Gipper has a game been so laden with sentimental possibility.
Seeing numbers like these -- more than the finale of “MASH,” people!--the producers of this year’s Oscar telecast, Mssrs. Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic, would be foolish if they didn’t liberally lift as much from the Super Bowl as they do from the Emmys or, heaven forbid, the Tonys.
This year’s Oscars has its own dynasty element -- Jeff Bridges is up for lead actor -- and if there’s no direct New Orleans reference, two of the best picture nominees -- “The Blind Side” and “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” -- tell stories of exceptional individuals overcoming horrendous obstacles. And “The Blind Side” is about football, which lends the following suggestions even more credence.
*Get Peyton Manning and Brett Favre involved. They’re quarterbacks and what do quarterbacks do? They direct. Have them present best director. Who wouldn’t watch that? Tell me you wouldn’t watch that.
* Don’t have hosts, have commentators: Just once wouldn’t it be nice to have the hosts say what we’re all thinking? Like “Well, Steve, many people think that (fill in the blank) deserved that one but you have to keep in mind the academy’s soft spot for sports films/Holocaust films/George Clooney.”
* If Steve and Alec don’t feel comfortable with this, why not have a few cutaway moments to an “Oscar Center” where Hollywood pundits could do a little blow-by-blow analysis. “Those early wins for ‘Avatar’ have really just sucked the oxygen out of the room, Jim.” “Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Katie?” “Absolutely -- ‘Return of the King, Part Two.’ ” “It’s going to be a long evening.”
* Get a sponsor for those cutaway moments, something that will pay the bills but not undercut the grandeur of film. Kodak, say, or Trader Joe’s.
* Get better ads. Face it, half of us watch the Super Bowl for the ads. Maybe the Oscars can’t woo Google, but you’d think members of the film committee would want to do their part to up the ratings. Does Meryl carry American Express? Has Leo ever enjoyed a Diet Coke? Meanwhile, Conan O’Brien, I understand, has some time on his hands.
* Have the Police or some other geezer band play a set in the middle of the show. That film about Joan Jett just debuted at Sundance -- what’s she up to? It couldn’t be odder than Hugh Jackman’s non-sequitur salute to aged musicals last year.
* I know we can’t encourage dramatic injuries but a few bloopers would be nice. Especially if you can replay them a few times.
* What’s wrong with a little confrontation? If your actor/producer/screenwriter doesn’t win, demand a recount. The president of the academy is right there.
* More excitement from the winners. One of the biggest problems with the Oscars is that very few people seem genuinely thrilled when they win. They blink and cry and compliment their fellow nominees, they say they never thought they’d win, don’t have a speech and proceed to thank their agents, which is a crashing bore and frankly insulting. Seriously, if the possibility of winning an Oscar does not excite you enough to prepare a really good acceptance speech, then I suggest you withdraw your name from consideration.
Or take a look at some post-game interviews and man the heck up.