Anne Hathaway and James Franco, Oscar hosts unlikely to pull ratings win

Anne Hathaway, 28, and James Franco, 32, will host the February show.
Anne Hathaway, 28, and James Franco, 32, will host the February show. (Reuters)
By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 30, 2010; 1:00 AM

Poor ABC is pretty well guaranteed to be stuck with one of the lowest-rated Academy Awards broadcasts in recent memory this coming February, thanks to Monday's announcement that Anne Hathaway and James Franco will host the trophy show.

Imagine if the TV Academy announced that its next Primetime Emmy Awards would be hosted by Kim Kardashian and one of the zombies from "The Walking Dead." Yeah - it's kinda like that.

On paper, Hathaway and Franco sound great.

Franco is the star of "127 Hours" - the flick based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who had to cut off his arm to free it from a fallen boulder, after being trapped in a canyon in Utah. Franco - besides being just 32 years old - is a big deal among people who write blogs and editors of New York-based magazines. People who write blogs do not watch the Oscars, and there are not enough editors of New York-based magazines left to be a meaningful demographic group for Nielsen ratings.

Hathaway, meanwhile, is one of those pretty and adequately talented actresses who has crossed the line into "artist," by recently appearing in a couple of chick flicks in which her hair was all messy, and by appearing nude on a magazine cover. Granted, it was the cover of Entertainment Weekly - but still.

Even so, most coverage of Monday's Oscar-hosting announcement focused almost exclusively on their ages:

"Even added together, the ages of Feb. 27 Oscar broadcast hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway (32 and 28) will be younger than plenty of Oscar voters, and if past hosts Steve Martin and Billy Crystal had come back to host it together, their act could've been called '127 Years,' " observed the Hollywood Reporter.

"Telecast producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer have decided to continue the two-host trend from last year's show, when Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin shared emceeing duties. But they clearly seem to be courting a different generation: Franco and Hathaway's combined age is less than Steve Martin's," chimed in Entertainment Weekly.

Goodness - someone's bucking for better tickets!

That brings us to an interesting point. Last year's Oscarcast, hosted by the ancient (65) Steve Martin and the nearly as old (52) Alec Baldwin, attracted 7.6 million people between the ages of 18 and 34 years - we'll call that the Anne Hathaway/James Franco demographic group.

One year earlier, the 2009 Hugh Jackman-hosted Academy Awards attracted 7.6 million 18-to-34-year-olds. At the time, Jackman was 40 - eight years older than Franco is now.

And the 2008 Academy Awards, which was hosted by 18-to-34-year-old viewer magnet Jon Stewart, clocked - ooh! what's this? - 6.5 million viewers ages 18 to 34!

In conclusion: Those who do not learn from Oscar history are condemned to learn the hard way. It's the forum, not the hosts, stupid.

Last year's Academy Awards, hosted by Baldwin and Martin (whose IQ, too, might also exceed the combined total of Franco's and Hathaway's), attracted nearly 8 million people in the Hathaway/Franco demographic because "Avatar" was expected to be a big winner.

That year's Oscar show also averaged about 42 million viewers of all ages - the franchise's biggest audience since 2005.

And in this age of hundreds of viewing options and audience fragmentation, that's nothing to sneer at - unless, apparently, you are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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