Get woke, go broke: Pious, political Oscars crashes, loses tens of millions of viewers

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The year was 1998. The venue: the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles for the 70th annual Academy Awards. 

The movie everyone was buzzing about on the red carpet was “Titanic,” which shattered box office records and made Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet the late 20th century version of Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh and director James Cameron the next Steven Spielberg. The great Billy Crystal served as host of the show, marking his sixth time on television’s biggest stage outside of the Super Bowl. 

America was immersed in the telecast on ABC, with more than 57 million people tuning in. 

Fast forward to 2021. The venue: Union Station in Los Angeles and the Dolby Theatre. 

There was no movie anyone was buzzing about. No household-name stars were nominated unless Anthony Hopkins – who won his last Oscar 30 years ago – counts. There wasn’t even a host for the show, because the Academy thought it was a great idea to eliminate the position for reasons unclear when a raw, unfiltered talent such as Ricky Gervais would have been just the person to lift our spirits. America was apathetic about the telecast on ABC, with just 9.85 million people tuning in. 

Think about that number for a moment: That’s 47 million fewer people tuning in than 23 years ago. Oh, but there are streaming options sucking away viewers, you say. But that can’t explain such a large drop off. As recently as 2014, 40 million Americans watched the Oscars, or 30 million more people than on Sunday.  

So, what drove this stunningly horrific number? 

For starters, the Oscars is much like late-night “comedy” these days, where viewers can tune in to see Stephen Colbert or Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah make poignant arguments about abolishing the filibuster or the Supreme Court.  


Humor? What’s that?

Escapism? A foreign concept.

The acceptance speeches at this year’s Academy Awards were also a hoot. 

“Today the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people,” said actor Trayvon Free after winning Best Live Action Short Oscar. “And the day after that, the police will kill three people because on average the police in America every day kill three people, which amounts to about a thousand people a year. And those people happen to disproportionately be Black people.”

Besides the speech being utterly depressing to give at what is supposed to be a celebratory awards show, it also leaves out one very key element: An overwhelming majority of people who die at the hands of police – George Floyd notwithstanding – are armed at the time. Free doesn’t bother sharing that part, no doubt leading some viewers, particularly younger ones, to believe that cops are just playing target practice with unarmed victims on a daily and nightly basis.  

Regardless of the argument, many Americans don’t want to hear about anything political at the Oscars.  

“Increasingly, the ceremonies are less about entertainment honors and more about progressive politics, which inevitably annoys those in the audience who disagree,” reads a New York Times story. “One recent producer of the Oscars, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential metrics, said minute-by-minute post-show ratings analysis indicated that ‘vast swaths’ of people turned off their televisions when celebrities started to opine on politics.”

The tone was set from the very beginning by Regina King, who kicked off the fun by talking about the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict for the killing of George Floyd.

“I have to be honest, if things had gone differently this past week in Minneapolis, I may have traded in my heels for marching boots.” 

Piers Morgan put it perfectly in The Daily Mail: 

“The Oscars had one job after the whole world had endured a year of hell with the coronavirus pandemic: make us feel better,” he explained. “The fact it made us all feel slightly worse by the end is an almost miraculously bad achievement worthy of winning an award itself.”

In focusing on all-things woke, the show’s producers screwed up, especially what was supposed to be a climatic finish with the announcement of winner of Best Actor. 

“And the award goes to: Anthony Hopkins for ‘The Father.'”  

If you’re wondering what the classy Hopkins said in his acceptance speech last night, keep wondering. He – like so many stars – didn’t attend. A Zoom link to his home in Wales may have been helpful, but that didn’t happen. Turns out, according to his agent, the 83-year-old was fast asleep

Hopkins wasn’t alone. Most of America was likely asleep at that point of the show as well. 

Go woke. Go broke.  

Professional sports leagues like the NBA are learning this the hard way. 

In the same year that 57 million tuned into the Oscars, 37 million watched Michael Jordan’s Bulls win their sixth championship in Utah. 

Last year’s NBA Finals with LeBron James, the wokest of woke players, was watched by 5.6 million when the Lakers clinched the title. That’s more than 30 million viewers… gone. 

Can the Oscars ever be appointment viewing again?  

Don’t bet on it. Because when an awards show is indistinguishable from a congressional floor speech by AOC or a CNN town hall, most of the country will continue to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.

Tags Academy Awards Academy Awards Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Derek Chauvin George Floyd Lebron James Mitch McConnell Oscars Ruth Bader Ginsburg Stephen Colbert Trevor Noah woke culture woke politics wokeness

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