The only way to save the Oscars? Stop showing them on TV

[3 March 2008]

By Barry Koltnow

The Orange County Register (MCT)

The Oscars telecast needs to go viral.

I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing.

The young Web masters who run my life get very excited whenever a story goes “viral.” As far as I can tell, it means that someone’s story on our Web site has been picked up in some mysterious way by other search engines or has been posted on YouTube, and the story has suddenly appeared all over the Internet.

I am completely baffled by it all, but it seems that going viral is about as good a thing as one can imagine these days.

In that case, the Oscars telecast definitely needs to go viral.

Last week’s telecast was really bad in many ways. The TV rating - the lowest since Mr. Nielsen began measuring Oscars telecasts - certainly bears that out.

It would be easy to point an accusatory finger, but what good would that serve? I don’t care if it was a lack of popular movies for which people could root. I don’t care if no one had seen the nominated performances. I don’t care if it was the lingering effects of the writer’s strike, or even the wrong host. Why dwell on past mistakes? We need to look to the future, if the Oscars are to have a future.

The people who run the Oscars need to do something right now, and I am going to offer a solution.

My proposal is radical, but I believe this situation calls for drastic measures. This is no time for subtle changes or tweaks. The Oscars telecast, as the last show demonstrated so painfully, has become irrelevant. Nothing is sadder than an American institution becoming irrelevant. Do I need to mention the Miss America Pageant?

I propose that the awards ceremony no longer be televised.

Instead, I suggest that an expanded version of the red carpet arrivals be broadcast in all its glory. I’m not talking about the feeble half-hour network show that now precedes the ceremony. And I’m not talking about the lame all-day coverage by some of the cable channels.

I’m looking for something in between - in the two-hour range.

All anyone really cares about are the celebrities and the fashions. The awards are secondary. Only six of them really matter to anyone outside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The remaining 18 awards don’t matter at all to real people.

I fully understand why the awards matter so much to the academy members. They are part of an industry, and this is a nice ceremony to pat each other on the back for notable achievements during the year. But the public doesn’t need to share in their private ceremony. Nobody televises our pats on the back.

But I acknowledge that there is public interest in a few of the awards, so I propose that cell phones with cameras be handed out to every academy member in attendance. Let them bring the awards ceremony to the world via the Internet. Let’s watch the highlights on YouTube. And give Jack Nicholson a laptop so he can blog live from the front row.

As for network television, I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to restrict coverage to the red carpet.

Let’s face it; there are better celebrities on the red carpet than what we’re now getting. TV reporters are busy interviewing nominated actors you’ve never heard of while bigger stars are strolling by in the background. In my expanded red-carpet telecast, there would be plenty of time to talk to all the celebrities. And even more time to scrutinize who is wearing whom.

It’s a win for the viewing public that is obviously bored with the show as it now exists. At least eight million people who watched last year chose not to watch this year. If you promised them a two-hour visual feast packed with celebrities, I’m pretty sure we’d be looking at Super Bowl numbers.

It’s a win for the academy, which made a lot of money this year, but I wouldn’t get too smug if I were them. Advertisers paid Super Bowl dollars with the expectation that the show wouldn’t put people to sleep. They are not going to be so inclined in the future. However, a two-hour celebrity smorgasbord on the red carpet would be like printing money.

It’s a win for the celebrities because they only have to look good on the red carpet. They can let their hair extensions down inside the theater. And more of them will show up because even non-nominees would get publicity on the red carpet.

And it’s a win for the media shills who treat the Oscars telecast as if it was important. They can finally be honest about what they really care about - the red carpet.

I hope this column goes viral.

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