Oscars a ratings flop Sunday


UPDATED 6:52 p.m. PT Monday, Feb. 25, 2008


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 night'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 to 49 and was seen by 32 million viewers. In the demo, 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 night'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 also were unsure whether the Oscars were going forward with a full production until the writers strike was resolved Feb. 12, resulting in a last-minute 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 of Feb. 11-17, ABC's average ratings were off 36% versus 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 (14.1 rating/33 share, 40 million viewers).

Critics said the Sunday night 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." THR noted: "Producers failed to notice that the best moments in those endless montages came from memorable acceptance speeches. Instead they were in ... a rush to get winners off the stage."

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

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

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

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

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

The CW had "CW Now" (0.3/1, .6 million) and comedy repeats.