Will Oscars controversy lure viewers? ABC chief is hopeful

Oscar statuettes stand on display in Hollywood during a preview of the film academy's Governors Ball on March 1, 2018.
Oscar statuettes stand on display in Hollywood during a preview of the film academy’s Governors Ball on March 1, 2018.
(Valerie Macon/ AFP/Getty Images)

When it comes to the Oscars, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke’s attitude is that all publicity is good publicity.

Burke said she believes that the what-will-they-do drama surrounding the ceremony’s hosting duties has actually spurred interest in the telecast that is scheduled to air Feb. 24.

“The lack of clarity around the Oscars has kept the Oscars in the conversation,” Burke said Tuesday at the Television Critics Assn. media tour in Pasadena. “The mystery has been compelling. People really care.”

The telecast of the Oscars ceremony will not have a host for the first time since 1989 (largely remembered as a debacle). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had named comedian and actor Kevin Hart as host, but he decided to pull out after coming under fire for past tweets and jokes about gay people.


ABC has reason to be hopeful for any buzz as the audience level for the Oscars telecast fell to its lowest point ever in 2018, with 26.5 million viewers. Lengthy awards shows have seen ratings slip in the age of online streaming. Younger viewers are also content to watch award show clips on social media platforms instead of sitting through a three-hour-plus telecast.

ABC has asked the academy to keep the show at three hours, and Burke insisted that the show won’t sacrifice any of its entertainment value to quicken the pace. All of the nominees for best song will be performed.

“We are not going straight to people thanking their agents,” Burke said. “There will be comedy.”

She also said she feels that the popularity of the best picture nominees — often a driver of interest in the Oscars ceremony — will help this year’s telecast as three of the contenders have box-office receipts of more than $200 million (“Black Panther,” “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Brie Larson, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Charlize Theron, Constance Wu and Gustavo Dudamel are among the presenters announced for the ceremony.

Separately, Burke, a veteran network executive who was named president of ABC Entertainment in November after the departure of Channing Dungey, said she will focus on attracting more female viewers to the network. After long being the broadcast network of choice among women ages 18 to 49, ABC lost that lead to NBC in the current 2018-19 TV season.

“We’re choosing a few more [pilots] that have a strong lead and a female point of view,” she said.

Burke also announced that after 11 years, the network’s most popular situation comedy, “Modern Family,” will finish its run on ABC in the 2019-20 season.


Twitter: @SteveBattaglio