Despite Surprises, Oscars Wasn't a Big Ratings Success
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris. The movie Crash pulled off a major upset at last night's Academy Awards. It snatched the Best Picture Oscar from the front-runner, Brokeback Mountain. Despite that surprise, this year's award show was not a big ratings success as NPR's Kim Masters reports.
KIM MASTERS: For those who keep a close watch on the Oscar race this year's award ceremony ended with a big bang. Dave Karger covers the race for Entertainment Weekly.
DAVE KARGER: Until Jack Nicholson opened that envelope I still thought Brokeback Mountain was going to win.
JACK NICHOLSON: And the Oscar goes to Crash.
MASTERS: At those glamorous parties afterwards, Karger says the room buzzed with theories about the upset. There was the benign explanation.
KARGER: There might a been kind of a Brokeback fatigue factor where the voters saw this movie winning everything and they wanted to do something different and Crash was the other viable option.
MASTERS: And there was another possible explanation.
KARGER: I've definitely heard of older Oscar voters who simply said I will not see this movie. I've heard it's good but I won't see it.
MASTERS: Certainly Brokeback Mountain's long string of pre-Oscar awards may have played a role. In the days before the ceremony, one Academy member said there may have been some burnout because of the film's leap into the popular culture. All the send ups and parodies on the Internet like Spongeback Mountain.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPONGEBACK MOUNTAIN)
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: Pull your pants up Patrick, we're going home.
MASTERS: Then there was the argument that Crash was a movie about Los Angeles where most Academy voters live. Backstage at the ceremony, Larry McMurtry who shared the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain said perhaps Americans don't want cowboys to be gay. But he also acknowledged...
LARRY MCMURTRY: I've had four movies nominated for best picture, and the three that were rural lost. The one that was urban, Terms of Endearment, won.
MASTERS: Entertainment Weekly's Karger says one reason the Crash win was so surprising to him was that the rest of the voting was so predictable.
KARGER: Phillip Seymour Hoffman winning his 23rd award for his performance in Capote, and that's not an exaggeration, that's the truth. Reese Witherspoon winning yet again for Walk the Line. Rachel Weisz and George Clooney who had won the Golden Globes for the supporting performances won again. With the exception of the Hustle and Flow song winning for best song, there really hadn't been any surprises leading up to best picture.
MASTERS: The ratings for this year's Oscar show were not good. While the show didn't swoop to the all time low in 2003, if the early numbers hold it will be the second worst rated Oscar show ever. Some reviewers were tough on host Jon Stewart. But film producer Bill Mechanic doesn't see that as the problem. A former member of the Academy's Board of Governors, Mechanic thinks all the movies in contention this year were admired, but they also had flaws that kept them from being loved. And he thinks that explains the ratings.
BILL MECHANIC: Each year definitely depends on how big the movie is because that's the rooting interest. If 90 percent of the audience hasn't seen any of the movies, then it's not as good a show.
MASTERS: And Mechanic points out most of this year's contenders were smaller art house films. Only Munich was released by a major studio, Universal. If the big studios want the Academy Awards show to win better ratings and hold on to its prestige, Mechanic says, there's a simple solution. Make better movies. Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.
NORRIS: You'll see video highlights from last night's Oscar telecast at her website NPR.org.
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