Haste lays waste to Oscar ratings

Strike toll, lack of big b.o. leads to worst-ever numbers

This season continues to be no country for network award shows.

Following the lowest-rated Emmys since 1990, the strike- hindered ratings performance of a severely truncated version of the Golden Globes and a nonstruck airing of the Grammys that nonetheless disappointed, Sunday's presentation of the 80th Annual Academy Awards on ABC hit an all-time ratings low.

According to overnight fast national ratings, the awards averaged a 10.7 rating among adults 18-49 and was seen by 32 million viewers. In the demographic, that's down a sharp 24% from last year and the lowest on record. Among viewers, that's a 20% drop. The previous all-time low was in 2003.

Sunday's Oscar telecast, where "No Country for Old Men" took the top prize, was expected to underperform given the lack of movies with broad boxoffice appeal vying for best picture. ABC and producers were unsure whether the Oscars were going forward with a full production until the writers strike was resolved Feb. 12, resulting in a scramble to prepare and market the show.

The strike hurt the awards in another way, too. ABC had fewer scripted hits such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives" airing original episodes, so there was less of a promotional platform for running Oscar ads. During the week ending Feb. 17, ABC's average ratings were off 36% compared with last season among adults 18-49.

The highest-rated Oscar telecast during the past five years was in 2004, when audience favorite "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won best picture. The airing was seen by 43.5 million viewers and received a 15.3 rating among adults 18-49. Viewership declined the next two years, then spiked slightly in 2007 when "The Departed" took home the top prize (40 million viewers, 14.1 rating/33 share).

Critics said the Sunday production's last-minute turnaround was evident, with the event lacking humorous sketches and overstuffed with dreary clips.

The Associated Press said the Oscars "had an underwhelming feel that left the clear impression it was put together on the fly." The Washington Post said, "The show was so overstocked with clips from movies — from this year's nominees and from Oscar winners going back to 1929 — that it was like a TV show with the hiccups."

Host Jon Stewart received praise for his performance, with critics saying he significantly improved on his 2006 debut as Oscar emcee.

ABC managed to dominate Sunday, with its red-carpet show coming in second place for the night (21.5 million, 6.3 rating) and the Barbara Walters annual Oscar special garnering a 3.2 rating and 11.7 million viewers.

Runner-up Fox aired a rain-plagued NASCAR race (10.5 million, 3.9/10) and a "Simpsons" repeat (5.5 million, 2.6/6).

CBS had "60 Minutes" (10.5 million, 1.8/5), an on-par "Big Brother" (5.7 million, 2.2/5) and a slightly dipped "Cold Case" repeat (6.9 million, 1.8/4). At 10 p.m., CBS aired "Dexter" (6.5 million 2.0/5), which continued to drop.

In fourth, NBC aired a marathon of "Law & Order" franchise repeats averaging 1.3/3 for the night with 4.7 million viewers.

The CW had "CW Now" (600,000, 0.3/1) and comedy repeats.