March 02, 2014 6:00am PT by Michael O'Connell
Oscars: A Short History of the Academy Awards' Very Long Telecasts
Loosen that bow tie and discretely tuck a flask into that gown. The Oscars are long.
One of the greatest endurance challenges of all awards shows, the live telecast of the Academy Awards will run well over three hours on Sunday night. Starting at 8:30 p.m. ET and pushing on dangerously close to midnight -- or later! -- the show does seem stretch a little longer every year.
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The most recent Oscars clocked in at three hours and sixteen minutes. (Sorry, local news.) And that's nothing compared to the the longest show in history when the 2002 Oscars stretched on for an inhumane four hours and twenty minutes. For a little math fun, that's an hour-and-a-half longer than 2002 best picture winner Gladiator -- or, in contemporary terms, the equivalent of sitting through Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and then watching the first half all over again.
Oscar has flirted with the four-hour mark since then. The 2007 show -- one that was hosted by, ahem, 2014 emcee Ellen DeGeneres -- ran three hours and 50 minutes. That's not a good sign for anybody with an early morning planned for Monday. At least for broadcaster ABC, there is no noticeable relationship between duration and rating. Last year's show posted an improved 40.4 million viewers despite running 15 minutes over the year before. And when the 2003 Oscars pulled back by nearly an hour from the record-breaker the year before, they also lost nearly 10 million viewers.
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It wasn't always this way. The first Oscar presentation in 1929, by all accounts, ran just 15 minutes -- likely because that's all you could expect of people during prohibition. By the time the show was ready to make its TV debut in 1953, it swelled to a... completely reasonable hour and thirty-two minutes. The Oscars didn't get sticky until 1957, when Jerry Lewis and Celeste Holm steered the telecast past the three-hour mark for the first time. (Lewis' stamina was later put to better use with his 21-hour Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons.)
Three hours would be forgiving by today's standards. The last decade's worth of Oscar telecasts ran an average three hours and twenty-nine minutes. So if you're planning to hunker down on Sunday night, and make it all the way to best picture, plan accordingly.