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the TINY SCREEN: The 78th Oscar Telecast – Low Ratings Despite Stewart as Host:

The search to replace Billy Crystal has led Oscar producer Gil Cates on many a hunt. Last year’s rather bold choice of Chris Rock was met with mixed results. And this year, he faced a new crisis: how to get people to watch a show about movies they not only hadn’t seen but weren’t planning on seeing any time soon. The solution? Pick someone really popular. Jon Stewart may be a more left-leaning hero, but there’s no denying he is popular. Being that his own Daily Show is a tad political, and the Oscar nominated films that were also political many thought the telecast would be rife with Bush jokes and Iraq war references. Save for one Cheney hunting joke, the show was about as squeaky clean politically as Paula’s Home Cooking of the Food Network.So how did Stewart do? The first hour was rough going. The nervous, uptight Academy sat rigidly waiting for something to fake-laugh at yet nothing was doing the trick. They mumbled their laughter and rarely applauded. Stewart did his best to relate to the camera rather than the stone-cold audience. But at times, you could hear a pin drop.It was the performance and subsequent win of Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out there for a Pimp,” however, that got Stewart all greased up and ready for fun. It was difficult not to be loosened up by the rap group, whose epithets “bitches and hoes” were okayed by Cates prior to the telecast. Stewart couldn’t get enough of the song and the excited winners, saying “now THAT’S how you win an Oscar.” Of course, he couldn’t resist following it up with, “so those of you keeping score, Martin Scorsese=0, Three 6 Mafia=1.”After that, Stewart made the audience laugh, even amidst their nervousness. The unfortunate decision to have what sounded like elevator music playing over the winner’s speeches was almost as dumb as last years decision to have the nominees all stand on stage to receive their awards. They had no idea how badly it would play on TV. It sounded like the music you might hear while strolling down the halls of an insane asylum in The Stepford Wives rather than a jubilant moment at the Oscars. This is not to poke fun at the brilliant conductor Bill Conti or his reliable orchestra, but at Gil Cates’ desperate need to spruce up and speed up the show so that people would watch.The other thing they did to break up the night was to show film montages with themes like “socially conscious movies.” They showed some film noir, and a winking look at the gay undertones in the American western. The film clips were one too many, however, and one wonders why they seemed to need filler for a show everyone was already complaining was too long.Don’t they really understand that people are watching because it’s a live event, and it doesn’t really matter how bad it is? In fact, everyone knows the Oscars are bad – whole industries feed off of how bad they are. Everyone loves to dis them. But those who are going to watch are going to watch anyway, no matter what. Commercials run during the Oscars fetch the second highest price behind the Super Bowl, which shows just how big an event it still is, even if the ratings are dropping faster than Paris Hilton’s undergarments. Now, if only the Academy would start picking more popular films, everyone would win.Good thing American Idol doesn’t play on Sundays; Oscar would have gotten crushed. As it was, ratings were down anywhere from 8 to 10 percent. One estimate on NPR called it the lower ratings for an Oscar telecast ever.Notable TV This WeekThursday, March 9Bringing Down the House (*), 8 p.m., ABC.Barry Manilow: Music and Passion, 8 p.m., KCET.World’s Strangest UFO Stories, 9 p.m., DISCOVERY.Wild Wild West (**), 9 p.m., TBS.Friday, March 10 Moments to Remember: My Music Number 204, 8:30 p.m., KCET.Saving Private Ryan (***), 8 p.m., TNT.Shanghai Noon (***), 9 p.m., TBS.Magnificent Obsession (***), 9 p.m., TCM.Saturday, March 11JFK (****), 8 p.m., HISTORY. What Lies Beneath (**), creepy Michelle Pfeiffer movie, 8 p.m., ABC.Auto Focus (***), 9 p.m., IFC.Nowhere in Africa (***), 10 p.m., SUNDANCE.Sunday, March 12Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill, 9 p.m., BBCAM.Trading Places (***), 8 p.m., SPIKE.The Mummy Returns (**), 8 p.m., USA.How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (*), 9 p.m., CBS.Monday, March 13 Broadway: The Golden Age, 8 p.m., KCET.Miami Rhapsody (**), 8 p.m., IFC.Sixteen Candles (**), 8 p.m., AMC.Tuesday, March 14 The Click List: best in Short Film, 8 p.m., LOGO.The Women (***), 7:30 p.m., TCM.Beaches (**), 9 p.m., AMC.Bram Stoker’s Dracula (***), 9 p.m., SCI FI.Wednesday, March 15 Pollock (***), 7:30 p.m., IFC.The Princess Bride (***), 8 p.m., AMC.Under the Tuscan Sun (***), so pretty you forget how bad it is, 8 p.m., FAMILY.High Fidelity (***), 8:30 p.m., OXYGEN.

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