About 39.3 million people watched Sunday’s mesmerizing “84th Annual Academy Awards,” in which Octavia Spencer got a standing ovation as she became one of just a half-dozen black actresses to have won an Oscar in the show’s history — and host Billy Crystal appeared in blackface.
TV-industry navel-lint pickers had predicted that this year’s Oscar ceremony would be one of the least watched ever, what with old-timer Billy Crystal returning for his ninth hosting at-bat and no “Titanic”-like box-office hit among the nine best picture contenders.
Of course, those pundits hadn’t banked on Jennifer Lopez’s left nipple playing hide-and-seek on stage with her Zuhair Murad gown in the early moments of the show, landing its own Twitter account (more than 3,000 followers and counting).
Nor could they have foreseen that Angelina Jolie’s uber-ambitious right leg would pull an Eve Harrington and steal the show and enter the meme-o-sphere. Before the show was over, Angie’s leg had scored a couple of Twitter handles (one, @AngiesRightLeg, had 20,000 followers and counting at press time) and a Tumblr account. And by morning, the world was mulling what it would be like if Jolie’s leg met a sad dog in a rainstorm, or if the State of Liberty did The Angelina — as demonstrated by NBC News journalists Ann Curry and Al Roker.
(Also meme-ing Sunday night were the Oscarcast’s continual audio problems, although its Twitter account, @OscarsAudioGuy, had vanished by Monday morning, presumably over copyright issues with the use of “Oscar.”)
Sunday’s wildly Web-friendly trophy show clocked about 1.4 million more viewers than those 37.9 million brave souls who slogged through last year’s Oscar ceremony broadcast in hopes they’d see Anne Hathaway haul off and smack her too-hip-for-the-room co-host James “Phoning It In” Franco. Sadly, a Hathaway smack did not happen, leaving last year’s trophy show as one of the lower-rated for the franchise— although not as bad as that second time Jon Stewart hosted, when the show attracted only 32 million viewers.
Despite the best efforts of Lopez’s mam and Jolie’s gam, however, this year’s show still wound up with fewer viewers than the Grammys a few weeks earlier. A total of 39.9 million watched that Feb. 12 trophy show, at which the music industry dispensed with most of the trophy dispensing (and, hence, most of the boring acceptance speech-giving) so it could lay its heart at the feet of its fallen heroine, Whitney Houston, who died dramatically the previous afternoon in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub. And as they mourned, some bands played their latest hits, show host LL Cool J prayed and Nicki Minaj got exorcised.
The Grammys’ ratings lead over Sunday’s Oscars was much more pronounced among the 18- to 49-year-old viewers who are the Holy Grail of the advertising community. Even so, ABC suits seemed pleased to discover that, with Crystal at the helm and “The Artist,” a silent-film-era love letter, expected to mop up, Sunday’s Academy Awards retained 100 percent of its year-ago ratings in that age bracket and even attracted more 18- to 49-year-old chicks — the target of that Disney fairy-tale wedding-dress ad and those Ellen DeGeneres J.C. Penney commercials.
About halfway through the 31 / 2-hour broadcast, after Kermit and Miss Piggy introduced a Cirque du Soleil performance, Crystal joked: “We’ve got puppets, acrobats — we’re a pony away from being a bar mitzvah. . . . We’re going to slam the 78-to-84 [age] group.”
Crystal was a last-minute return to host the statue-spewing. He stepped in to replace Eddie Murphy, who stepped down after Brett Ratner was “resigned” as this year’s Oscar show producer. Ratner’s departure came in the wake of his string of homophobic-slur-and-potty-mouth moments at a screening and on Howard Stern’s radio show.