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And the Biggest 2012 Oscars Shocker of All Is...Probably Not What You Think

Billy Crystal ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

It was hard to find a nice word about Sunday's Oscars telecast.

Audiences voiced displeasure over Viola Davis' loss. Critics officially broke up with longtime favorite Billy Crystal.

But the Academy had the last laugh: Its "painful," "bland as oatmeal" show was a hit.

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According to updated numbers from ABC, the telecast averaged 39.3 million viewers, up some 1.5 million from last year's James Franco-Anne Hathaway ceremony.

The audience was the Oscars' second-biggest of the last five years. 

Anything short of a significant ratings drop would have been a victory  for the show and Crystal; a ratings surge was a miracle as neither of last night's biggest winners, The Artist and Hugo, were broadly popular movies.

So, people watched—older people most of all (that's a TV thing, not just an Oscars thing)— but they didn't necessarily like. 

According to a fan poll by the advance-ticket seller Fandango, Davis, upset for Best Actress by Meryl Streep, was cited overwhelmingly as the snubee of the night. (E! Online and Fandango are both divisions of NBCUniversal.)

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Crystal's ninth stint as Oscar host, meanwhile, was panned as being as out of step with the times as the two period films claiming most of the Oscar gold:

• A "safe, unfunny, retro-disaster." (Hollywood Reporter)

• The "opening filmed routine was lame." (Indiewire)

• Crystal "look[ed] repeatedly surprised that his jokes were dying." (HitFix.com)

The star's Sammy Davis Jr. routine didn't go over much better, with some accusing the imitation, done as always by Crystal in full makeup, of being "blackface."   

At least TheWrap sounded a hopeful note: "As bad as it was," it noted, "it could have been much, much worse."

Presenter Chris Rock got high marks for for his routine about animated movies "work," while the acrobats of Cirque du Soleil got high marks for their high-flying routine.

According to TiVo, its users liked whatever it was Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez and Lopez's dress were up to: their presenting bit for Best Costume Design was the most played and replayed moment of the show. 

In the end, the Oscars, maligned or no, came out all right. Per the TiVo poll, people even made a point of paying attention to the point of the night: the opening of the Best Picture envelope.

(Orignally published at 8:50 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2012.)

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