Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oscars U.S. TV audience up six percent on 2008

The U.S. television audience for Sunday's song-and-dance Oscars rose by about six percent, lifting the glitzy film awards show from record low ratings in 2008, according to early ratings figures on Monday.

The three and one-half hour broadcast on ABC saw "Slumdog Millionaire" triumph with eight Oscars in a show given a new twist by Australian host Hugh Jackman. It posted an average household rating of 23.3 in the largest U.S. TV markets, according to audience tracker Nielsen Media Research.

When national figures are released later on Monday, that is likely to translate into a healthy increase from the 32 million U.S. viewers who tuned in in record low numbers in 2008.

The show also attracts millions of viewers around the world.

Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies, starred in the 2008 film "Australia" and is an award winning musical theater performer, was brought in to give the 81st Oscar show a new look after years of declining TV audiences.

The traditional, joke-filled opening monologue was cut, and Jackman performed two song-and-dance routines -- one with actress Anne Hathaway and a second alongside singer Beyonce and popular young stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.

TV critics, however, were lukewarm about the Oscar show. Tom Shales in The Washington Post said Jackman was a "versatile and energetic talent" but called his opening medley of songs on the best picture nominees "pointless and flat."

Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times said Jackman was a "shrewd, even thrifty choice for a recession-era Oscar night -- the hosting equivalent of a value meal."

Vibrant Bollywood-style performances of Oscar-nominated songs from "Slumdog Millionaire" put a lively spin on the evening, which saw the main acting awards go to British actress Kate Winslet for "The Reader" and American Sean Penn for "Milk."

Heath Ledger, a star of 2008's No. 1 box office hit "The Dark Knight" was awarded a rare posthumous Oscar as best supporting actor and his family from Australia gave emotional acceptance speeches from the Kodak Theater podium.

Spain's Penelope Cruz took the best supporting actress award for her part in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein savaged the telecast. "I'm beginning to believe that saving the Oscars is a job for Iron Man or Hancock, a kick-ass superhero with the kind of unassailable powers that would allow them to radically overhaul what has become the year's stodgiest awards fest."

The Academy Awards show still ranks as the year's highest-rated entertainment spectacle on TV, and a cash cow for Walt Disney Co.'s ABC.


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