TV Eye

Why We Watch

Actors Kate Winslet, Sean Penn, and Penélope Cruz celebrate their big wins.
Actors Kate Winslet, Sean Penn, and Penélope Cruz celebrate their big wins.

Why do people watch televised awards shows? Is it for the couture, the glamour, the stargazing? Is it a bit of harmless escapism? I watch them because I have to, being that they're so-called major TV events. If you read the trades, all awards shows are losing their audiences, and while last weekend's Oscar telecast audience was up from last year, it was still among the three least-watched televised Oscar ceremonies.

Well, you can't place the blame on host Hugh Jackman. The charming Aussie actor showed why he is a triple threat, a talent who can sing and act and dance with equal ease. He cleaned up the stage with the show's ecstatic opening number that brought the audience to its feet and gave me some hope that this year's ceremony would be the best of them all. That was a short-lived hope, but it was hope nonetheless.

You can't blame first-time Oscar telecast producer Laurence Mark and executive producer Bill Condon for the low viewing numbers, either. In fact, I thought they invigorated the show with several new twists – from what I gathered from online Oscar recaps, twists that were not as well liked by others. I loved how a committee of past winners, from across generations, presented the major acting awards (others found it off-putting, creepy, and weird). Anne Hathaway (nominated for Best Actress) looked like she was going to hyperventilate when Shirley MacLaine offered her words of praise and even went off script to encourage Hathaway to keep on singing (Hathaway had a moment of stage time with Jackman in the opening musical number). I know I'd be hyperventilating if MacLaine – or any of the other presenters – offered words of praise about me. The presentation style was also something of a welcoming committee – a welcome-to-the-club gesture. In another forum, I might abhor this, but hey – it's true. It is a club, one that many in the Kodak Theatre on Oscar night aspire to be in and that many of us at home have fantasized about, giving acceptance speeches into our bathroom mirrors with shampoo bottles standing in for our Oscar statuettes. (Actually, I used a hairbrush.)

Of course, the show wasn't without its gaffes. Is there a contract somewhere that says that every Oscar show has to have a bizarre musical number? A second, gargantuan one followed Jackman's cheery announcement that "the movie musical is back!" Even I had to snort – and I like movie musicals. Unlike the opening number, which depended largely on Jackman, the salute to the movie musical was big and beautiful and entirely archaic. Even Jackman's winsome personality couldn't save that number.

When I think about the Oscars of the past, I think of how reverential they were. How the audience bought into and shared the idea that there are "movie stars" and "Hollywood royalty." Let's face it. Styles and tastes have changed. Those terms don't have the same currency as they did when there were only three broadcast networks and going out to the movies, like air travel, was a tony thing.

If the Oscars want to try and hold on to that royal status, I wonder if they would do better airing on cable or as a pay-per-view event to heighten their prestige. Why not? It works for boxing. In the meantime, it should at least be entertaining. But who am I kidding? I'll probably keep tuning in, even if I don't have to and even if I haven't seen all of the nominated films. Because when it comes right down to it, I liked witnessing how shaken and frail and lovely Penélope Cruz was, how Sean Penn was badass. I liked seeing the fresh-faced kids (Dustin Lance Black) and the comebacks (Mickey Rourke). Like that clunker you can't quite let go of or a toy you know you're too old to play with, it's one of those things you hold on to because – well, just because.

What Else Is On

Citizen Journalism: Mayoral candidates Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken will participate in a candidate forum to broadcast live on Saturday, Feb. 28, from 2:30 to 4pm on channelAustin (cable access Channel 10). Carole Keeton Strayhorn had not confirmed her participation at press time.

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Oscars, Hugh Jackman, Shirley MacLaine, Anne Hathaway, Penélope Cruz, Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken

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