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The 87th annual Oscars: Telecast viewership dips

Host Neil Patrick Harris performs at the 87th

Host Neil Patrick Harris performs at the 87th annual Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Hollywood, Calif. Photo Credit: AP / John Shearer

The Oscars were seen by an average 36.6 million viewers Sunday night, down about six million viewers from a year ago, and the lowest total since 2008, when about 32 million watched the show in which "No Country for Old Men” took top honors.

In fact, Sunday night was desultory by any Oscars benchmark; as a rule of thumb, these shows usually match or exceed 40 million — typically "40" being the magic number for the telecast. 

 The what-happened guessing game is now upon us.

 Let's tick off the usual suspects!

1.) Neil Patrick Harris: The underwear? The bad jokes? Or maybe people just thought he should do a few Barney-isms. Fully clothed, I thought he was an adequate host, even if some of his material was safely predictable, or just plain bad. (A pun on Reese Witherspoon's name? Did someone really write that? Or, when "Citizenfour" won the Oscar for best documentary, he noted that its subject Edward Snowden, couldn't show up Sunday night "'for some treason...?" No, no, nooooo.)

2. Too long, too boring, too not enough (add here whatever you wish it should have been instead). These are standard criticisms. I barely even bother reading the next-day reviews, much less write one — most critics could just dust off the stuff they wrote the year before. Rarely if ever, is an Oscar telecast celebrated for "creative exuberance,' or "sharp and crisp pacing,” or "magnificent hosting ..." There's something about the Oscars that makes people grouchy. That's why Joan Rivers was so successful for so long — she seemed to anticipate viewer apathy or loathing almost by osmosis.  

3.) "Birdman” won ... Great movie, and the best movie, but a lightly-seen movie by mass market standards. But how were viewers to know that "American Sniper" —- one of the highest grossing war films in history — would not win when the night was over? (The night was not over until the next day, so maybe they just gave up, which leads to No. 4.) 

4.) Viewers couldn't be bothered. This seems self-evident, but also demands further explanation. It's entirely possible most viewers hadn't actually even seen the nominated films. These films comprised a distinguished group, and some of these films were flat-out superb. But I also imagine that the total box office for "Birdman," "The Imitation Game," "Whiplash," "Selma," "The Theory of Everything," "Boyhood” and "The Grand Budapest Hotel” barely matched even a week's box office for "Sniper.” If viewers don't really care, and if they figure that "Sniper” isn't going to win anyway, then it's lights out.

5.) See reason No. 2. The 87th really were too long and too boring. Seth MacFarlane's Oscars night? That was also long , but as a host, no one could possibly say his choices were "boring."  The Academy knew exactly what it was getting with MacFarlane -- a spitball shooter who nailed everyone within spitball range, or tried to. Not fun for targets -- but fun for some viewers at least.     

6.) The Oscars anticipation is vastly more interesting than the actual "event."  Really, think about how we've all been programmed into believing this is Major News, and the Most Important Thing That Has Ever Happened. Ever. It's certainly major news for Hollywood. But us? Not so much.  The build-up is Super Bowl-esque but at least Super Bowls have usually been interesting the last dozen or so years. And if they are not interesting, there are always the Super Bowl commercials. And if not the commercials, the halftime show. And if not the halftime show, then we actually TALK to people at the party where we are watching the Super Bowl or commercials or halftime show. There is -- in other words -- an escape hatch to the misery. There is no such escape hatch from the Oscars. It just goes on and on and... 

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