The show was long. The shadow-puppet people were weird. Ellen DeGeneres was, per critics, blah. So, of course, ratings were up.
The 79th Annual Academy Awards, beset by a nearly four-hour running time, a lack of nominated blockbuster films, a spate of lackluster reviews and an entertainment world distracted by Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith, confounded the naysayers, averaging 39.9 million viewers, up about 1 million from last year, according to estimates Monday from Nielsen Media Research.
Final numbers will be out Tuesday.
If the estimates hold, Sunday's ABC telecast, featuring a Best Picture win for The Departed, will go down as one of only seven ceremonies since 1974 to not average at least 40 million viewers. In the scheme of things, it was neither a 2003 disaster (33 million viewers), nor a Titanic-powered 1998 triumph (55.2 million). It was more like a slightly undersized 1977, when Rocky's upset Best Picture win was witnessed, on average, by 39.7 million.
According to Nielsen, an estimated 87 million watched at least one minute of Sunday's many, many available minutes.
The show drew its best numbers in Chicago, followed by San Francisco and New York. Los Angeles, which hosted the event and had the numerous street closures to show for it, was Oscar's fourth-biggest market.
As of now, the telecast stands as the season's most-watched entertainment program. With the other awards shows out of the way, the only contender with a seeming shot to topple Oscar is American Idol. But even that powerhouse has never hit 40 million viewers. At least not yet.
Sunday's Oscars clocked in at three hours and 51 minutes, which was long, although not record long. It's not known how many die-hards stuck it out to the Martin Scorsese-crowning end. ABC ran out of commercials just before midnight (ET), hence Nielsen stopped caring. (The service only ranks commercially sponsored broadcasts.) The ratings reflect ABC's numbers for the show's first three-and-a-half hours.
Critics, unlike Nielsen, are required by their employers to watch the whole shebang, commercials or no. As such, they were in an unforgiving mood when it came to their reviews.
"Yes, I know, the Oscars are long and boring every year," Joel Keller wrote on tvsquad.com. "But this year seemed a little more boring than most."
The Toronto Sun's Bill Harris concurred. "Everybody likes to pick on the Academy Awards, but really," he wrote, "this might have been the most boring edition ever."
The show's unusual order—the first acting award wasn't handed out until after the short films and several technical categories had been honored—was cited more than once as the chief culprit in what Keller called the ceremony's "top-heavy nature."
According to an Academy librarian reached on Oscar night, Sunday may have been the first time since at least 1973 that the acting categories were presented so late in a show. (And in 1973, they were actually even tardier, with all four categories held until one of the last segments. The show ended up being the fourth-highest-rated Oscar telecast of the decade.)
On The Hot Blog, David Poland called the telecast "the worst produced Oscar show in memory," reserving special disdain for, he wrote, "the set," "the directing" and "the clip packages," among other annoying things.
DeGeneres wasn't killed by the critics—not like the shape-shifting "shadow dancer mimes [who] were dumber than six owls getting f----d by eight chickens" in the estimation of Rolling Stone—but she wasn't quite embraced, either.
In Variety, Brian Lowry called DeGeneres "a safe choice," and, worse, "a bland guide."
"DeGeneres' traditional shtick [felt] a trifle small for the industry's biggest stage," Lowry wrote.
Lowry did like Jerry Seinfeld's turn as a presenter and nominated the comic to host next year's ceremony. Harris seconded.
"There's no question about what to do: Let's draft Jerry Seinfeld," Harris wrote.
Aside from Seinfeld, Scorsese's long-awaited Oscar win, Jennifer Hudson's emotional acceptance speech and Will Ferrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly's harmonized effort to pick up Helen Mirren played best with critics.
Actually, Ferrell, Black and Reilly's attentions seemed to play pretty well with Mirren, too.