As we all know, ratings matter in television. A lot. So there was some reason for ABC, the network home for the 81st annual Academy Awards, to be happy about what happened in Chicago, where the ratings for the three-and-a-half hour slog of a telecast actually improved 11 percent year over year from a 28.5 in 2008 to a 31.6 Sunday night.
No word yet on how the show did nationally, but it appears the ratings improvement in Chicago may be attributable to a couple of factors that had nothing to do with the quality of the awards show itself, which we personally found severely lacking. First, as at least one television executive told us, people are simply staying home more at night now, given the economic downturn. Consequently, more people may have been sitting around looking for something to watch. Second, the other networks didn't aggressively counterprogram the Oscar telecast, which left viewers lacking any cable options little else that was enticing.
Though the Academy Awards producers tried hard to deliver a show with a lot of different twists, the final product failed -- in the worst way -- to dazzle. Hugh Jackman lacked his typical charisma. And the host was used very sparingly, except during some hideously-conceived production numbers, especially the medley featuring a cast of who knows how many poorly-utilized dancers. Plus this year's Oscar winners, while no doubt talented performers, lacked that always-welcome element of surprise when they came on stage to accept their statuettes. And who can explain why so many of the evening's video sequences were shown on screens inside screens that badly diminished their impact.
All in all, this Oscar telecast left so much to be desired. But hey, the ratings were up in Chicago.