Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The world's biggest movie lost the biggest prize, but Avatar might have won the night for Oscar.

Last night's James Cameron-denying Academy Awards scored the awards show's largest audience in five years, averaging 41.3 million viewers, ABC said.

So, the questions are: Did the almighty Avatar encourage tune-ins, or did people just have a thing for the "worst Oscars show ever?"

First things first: Yes, Cameron's blockbuster probably, if not likely, boosted interest.

The signs (read: box-office billions) were all there; TVbytheNumbers even predicted an Avatar bounce last week. See, as Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin could have been told by Billy Crystal—he of Oscar's titanic Titanic ceremony—it's good to host in the same year as a Cameron record setter.

As for the second question...Well, it begs another question: Was last night's show really the worst ever?

It was according to the Toronto Star's Peter Howell, who led off with "Worst. Oscars. Ever," and then conceded, "Yes, I know I've said this before. But the Academy keeps coming up with new lows."

TheWrap's Josef Adalian deployed the W-word, too, albeit in a (slightly) more forgiving context: "It wasn't the worst Oscars ever, but it may have been the most disappointing." The Los Angeles Times' GoldDerby blogger Tom O'Neil agreed, sentiment for sentiment, writing, "The show wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't a great Oscars, either." 

One of Adalian's biggest beefs: The show denying us a good shot of The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow passing Cameron—her ex-husband—on the way to accept her Best Director trophy.

O'Neil judged Martin and Baldwin "merely OK as hosts." "A few of their gags were good," he wrote, "but most jokes were weak tea."

The New York Times found Martin and Baldwin's opening monologue duologue a wee bit familiar. In an ingenious feature, it asked readers if they could tell which one-liners were from last night's show—and which were from a 1976 Paul Lynde routine.

Maybe that was the secret to last night's Nielsen success? The channeling of long-deceased comics?

Yeah, it was probably Avatar.

(Originally published March 8, 2010, at 9:27 a.m. PT)


Relive the night's big moments in our 2010 Oscars: Winners! gallery. 

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