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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

We'll learn a couple of things this Sunday night, when the Motion Pictures Academy holds the Oscars. One, of course, is who's taking home all those coveted gold statuettes? Another is whether anyone out in the television audience actually cares. Viewership of the Academy Awards has been slipping in recent years.

Our critic, Bob Mondello, is here to talk about whether that will happen again this Sunday. Hello, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO: Hey, good to be here.

NORRIS: So, the Academy has Hugh Jackman. Isn't that enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Well, let's put it this way. The audience for the Oscars, this is known as the female Super Bowl, in a way, because the audience is so heavily female. So, in theory, Hugh Jackman is going to help a lot. He's handsome and all that. On the other hand, "Australia" tanked, so, not necessarily. They are fighting history because last year had the lowest viewership of any Oscar show ever.

Historically, if you compare it to the good old days that people think about for the Oscars, back in 1954, 82 percent of all television sets in the United States were tuned to see the Oscars. And, you know, I went back to see, well, was the show better back then?

(SOUNDBITE OF 1954 OSCARS SHOW)

BOB HOPE: Now for someone to read the best actress nominations. We went to a two-time Oscar winner, who is on location in Mexico. Here he is, the Abe Lincoln of the sage brush, Mr. Gary Cooper.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: And then they showed a clip. There were cows wandering around. He was on a - is in some kind of a western and then they come back and he does the joke.

GARY COOPER: Thank you, John Wilkes Booth.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Now, you can see...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: ...the banter wasn't any better back then. It really wasn't. So, it wasn't that. What was remarkable back in the '50s was that movie stars didn't appear on television back then.

NORRIS: Well, there's a certain degree of showmanship that we see in the Oscars. These big musical numbers. Hugh Jackman, the host of the Oscars, he's had success on Broadway, he can sing, he can dance, he can act, will that make a difference?

MONDELLO: Well, in theory. I mean, actually, they've reduced - all the best song nominees are going to be done in one medley, apparently. But Hugh Jackman is going to sing with Beyonce on something else, apparently. They're also promising that it's going to be less than three hours for the first time in forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: Oh, yeah, right.

MONDELLO: And I'll tell you, none of that is going to bring in the audience.

NORRIS: When the nominations were announced, Bob, you said the Oscars give nominees some sort of box office bump. Is the world now divided into successful nominees and unsuccessful also-rans?

MONDELLO: That didn't really happen this year. If you take the two Kate Winslet movies, there's "Revolutionary Road," in which she's an American housewife in the '50s who wants to move from the suburbs to...

KATE WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) Paris.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (As Frank Wheeler) What?

WINSLET: (As April Wheeler) You always said it was the only place you'd ever been that you wanted to go back to, the only place that was worth living. So, why don't we go there?

MONDELLO: And you also have Kate Winslet in "The Reader," in which she plays a German in the 1950s, who's having an affair with a 15-year-old, who reads her "Lady Chatterley" in the bathtub.

WINSLET: (As Hanna Schmitz) Where did you get this?

DAVID KROSS: (As Young Michael Berg) Borrowed it from someone in school.

WINSLET: (As Hanna Schmitz) Well, you should be ashamed. Go on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONDELLO: Isn't it interesting? She sounds like two completely different people there, doesn't it? The accents and everything. Now, "Revolutionary Road" had taken in $6 million on the day that the nominations were announced. And "The Reader" had taken in eight million. Now, "The Reader" got a whole lot bunch of nominations, right? Including best picture and best actress. And "Revolutionary Road" didn't get anything, so, it should've tanked. But, today, "Revolutionary Road" is a little bit ahead of "The Reader" at the box office. So, the Oscar bump didn't affect that at all.

NORRIS: When we talk about the Oscar bump, you know, I'm just curious about whether it was diminished this year because so many of the films in several of these categories have very, very dark themes.

MONDELLO: Yes, you're zoning in on exactly what is wrong. Actually, if I were trying to make the Oscars work better, what I would do is nominate different pictures. If you replaced "Frost Nixon" and "The Reader" with "WALL-E" and "Dark Knight," "WALL-E" mentions...

NORRIS: The box office successes.

MONDELLO: Yeah, were box office successes, you would quadruple the number of people who had seen one of the best picture nominees.

NORRIS: So, that - you're saying they should move away from some of these more esoteric films.

MONDELLO: If you want to improve the viewership of the Oscar show, that's what they need to do.

NORRIS: Bob, are you having an Oscar party?

MONDELLO: Oh, god, no. Actually, though, NPR is, kind of. They're going to be doing live blogging all through the awards show. I'm not going to do it until the next morning. I will certainly be watching, but I will be watching on my own. I always lose pools, by the way, whenever...

NORRIS: You lose pools?

MONDELLO: Yeah, I totally. I have no - I can't even remotely guess.

NORRIS: Here, I going to, after the show I was going to, like, pull you aside and say, okay, help me fill out my ballot.

MONDELLO: I'll be happy to, but it won't help.

NORRIS: Oh no.

MONDELLO: If you go onto npr.org the next morning, I'll be happy to tell you what I thought of the show.

NORRIS: And we encourage everyone listening to do just that. Bob Mondello, always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's a joy.

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