39.9 Mil, but Who's Counting?

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By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

An average of 39.9 million viewers watched ABC's broadcast of the Academy Awards Sunday night, the network said yesterday.

Only the thing is, the trophy show ran well into Monday morning.

About 22 minutes into Monday morning, in fact. And that included most of the big glam categories: Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture.

Only ABC suits know how many people watched that part of the show, and they're not talking. Ditto Nielsen. Because the last national ad break in the Academy Awards telecast aired at 11:59 p.m., the network can instruct Nielsen to stop counting there for the record books.

And it did.

In the real world, after midnight, film history was made when Martin Scorsese finally snagged a Best Director Oscar, Forest Whitaker gave a killer speech when he was named Best Actor, and "The Departed" was crowned the year's Best Picture.

Just not in Nielsen's world, or ABC's world, where the broadcast stopped at 11:59 p.m. because when the show runs past midnight, ABC knows, viewers give up and turn in for the night, even if they suspect film history is about to be made and Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are about to take the stage.

So, in the real world, the show certainly averaged fewer than 39.9 million people. But not enough to put it in any danger of being eclipsed by the second-most-watched entertainment broadcast of this season to date, the "American Idol" season debut on Jan. 16, which clocked 37.4 million viewers.

The "Idol" debut, however, did eclipse the Oscar-cast among younger viewers, even when you whack off the bits of the trophy show that ran in the wee hours of Monday morning.

According to Nielsen and ABC, Sunday's ceremony show averaged about 1 million more viewers than last year's Academy Awards program.

And while you and I might think the show seemed interminable, in ABC and Nielsen's accounting, it came in only about a minute longer than last year's, at 3 hours 29 minutes.

Its real running length was closer to four hours, which makes it one of the longer Academy Awards shows, but not the longest.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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