Oscar-Night Ratings Improved, but Far From Golden

Rash Report: Slight Uptick, but Still Third-Lowest-Rated Show

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- With world cinema an increasingly important component of Hollywood's cultural and commercial model, it was Oscar's night to go global. But what the industry really wants to know is: Did it play in Peoria? The initial indication is it did, according to preliminary Nielsen fast-affiliate data.

Host Hugh Jackman provided the on-with-the-show showmanship at the Oscars last night.
Host Hugh Jackman provided the on-with-the-show showmanship at the Oscars last night. Credit: AP
The awards show was up 13% in average total viewers vs. last year's show, with 36.3 million tuning in compared with the 32.09 million the year before, when the Oscars had its worst ratings performance. The 11.2/26 rating and share in the ad-centric 18-to-49 demographic was up 5%, but with the big three awards presented after the 11 p.m. fast-affiliate cut-off, that number should rise some (final live-plus-same-day data released Tuesday will reflect official ratings, incorporating the telecast's overrun until 11:25 p.m.).

Still, it's doubtful that adding in the rest of the Nielsen markets tomorrow will elevate this year's Oscars much beyond its current status as the third lowest-rated Academy Awards, unless Peoria turns out to have embraced the "commie, homo-loving sons of guns" of Hollywood thanked by best-actor nominee Sean Penn more than the major markets did. (The awards telecast in 2003, when "Chicago" won best picture, was watched by only 33.04 million.)

In awards large and small, though, it was a small world, after all: A British director, Danny Boyle, and an Indian cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" won big; Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who walked between the Twin Towers was the subject of best-documentary winner "Man on Wire"; the U.K.'s Kate Winslet and Spain's Penelope Cruz continued their remarkable runs of good films with gold statues for best actress and best actress in a supporting role, respectively; and two awesome Australian performers provided ballast between the night's most emotional moment (the posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger) and the on-with-the-show showmanship (host Hugh Jackman). Even the night's big American winner, best actor Sean Penn, played a man who was often made to feel foreign in his home country, pioneering gay-rights activist Harvey Milk.

Nielsen was able to capture the full viewing of the "Barbara Walters Special" (5.3/14) and the "Oscar's Red Carpet 2009 pre-show" (9.3/22) and fast-affiliate data indicated both benefitted from -- and contributed to -- Oscar fever, with "Barbara" up 66% and the "Red Carpet" rolling up 48% more in the demo than last year. (In an inverse to the Oscars themselves, these numbers may go down when the full country is taken into account.)

Not surprisingly, compared with ABC's celebration of the big screen, most of the rest of the small screen looked, well, small. And most networks' ratings reflected it as well: CBS ran only two original episodes en route to delivering a third-place 1.8/4, with "60 Minutes" (1.7/5) down 47% from its season average, but "The Amazing Race" holding last week's season premiere 2.6/6. Then "Cold Case" (1.6/4) and "The Unit" (1.2/3) were reruns, resulting in declines of 41% and 52%, respectively, from original-episode averages.

NBC finished fourth with a 1.6/4. A two-hour "Dateline," which had to run up against not only rival newsmagazine "60 Minutes" but Barbara Walters as well, tumbled 20% to a 1.2/3. Its two-hour lead-out, "Top 100 Most Outrageous Moments," did better with a 2.0/5, but its outrageous moments were no match for Ben Stiller's Joaquin Phoenix, Mr. Winslet's whistle after his daughter Kate gave him a shout-out on stage and Danny Boyle's "Tigger leap" after winning best director.

The CW (0.4.1) finished fifth with "Jericho" (0.3/1) leading in to James Bond flick "Tomorrow Never Dies" (0.5.1), the type of theatrical thriller Oscar presenter Will Smith joked has nothing the award winners don't have but fans.

Some of those same car-chase movie fans may have been watching the real thing on Fox, as the network smartly counter-programmed the Oscars with a Nascar race, which delivered a 3.5/9 during its prime-time portion.

Monday: After last night's celebration of cinema, it's tough to recommend much on the small screen. But since so many of the nominated films were about social justice often delayed or denied, check out the real version on "A Class Apart," PBS's "American Experience" look at the landmark ruling that declared Mexican-Americans were protected under the 14th Amendment.
Tuesday: And after watching "A Class Apart" stick with reality -- the real kind, not the TV kind -- by watching President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress, which will be carried by numerous networks.

With a resurgent "Bachelor" as a lead-in, ABC's "True Beauty" has been sitting pretty, at least by the standards of most recent reality shows. If it holds its ratings for its finale tonight, it may get a second date with the "The Bachelor" next season.

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.

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