You can’t root for what you can’t watch

If you haven’t heard already, the ratings for the Sunday broadcast of the Academy Awards were the lowest in history.

According to Nielsen, 9.85 million people watched the broadcast. By comparison, 23.9 million people watched the year before.

One big problem, of course, is that many movie theaters were closed most of last year. But ratings for the award ceremonies have been declining for a long time.

Ken Levine, an award-winning writer and director, baseball play-by-play announcer and podcaster — leave some talent for the rest of us, geez — has some thoughts about “Why no one gives a shit about the Oscars”:

One of the reasons that the Academy Awards are such an afterthought is that movies play a much smaller role in our lives.

In movies’ heyday, which I believe lasted until the mid ‘70s when cable was introduced and first run movies could finally be seen in their entirety — uncut and uncensored — on television, movies were a major form of entertainment.

Going to a theatre was exciting. Movies were meant to be seen on giant screens in glorious technicolor (especially when TV was still just black-and-white). The studios provided a variety of styles and genres. Action, comedy, romantic comedy, horror, adaptations of novels and plays, political thrillers, drama, period pieces, sweeping scope, intimate stories, war films, fantasy, fairy tales, musicals — major studios produced them all. Many featured big stars you could only see in the movies.

Movies would have an impact. They reflected society and changed society. But in an entertaining way. Films like THE GRADUATE spoke to an entire generation.

Today studios only make comic book blockbusters or sequels trying to squeeze every dollar out of the only theatre-going customers they still have — young males. Remember “date movies?” Romantic comedies that were tolerable for both sexes on a weekend date? Now a studio comedy is a raunchfest aimed at — you guessed it — young males.

I disagree with some of his premise. (You can find my response in his comments.)

But: I wonder how much blame big theater chains deserve for the current state of movies?

Multiplexes in Pittsburgh routinely devote half of their screens to a single blockbuster film. Smaller movies play the Manor in Squirrel Hill—if they play anywhere.

As I’ve mentioned on the air, Denise and I started a “Friday movie night” during the COVID lockdown.

We’ve seen dozens of really great movies from the past five or 10 years. Many of them never played Pittsburgh at all, or were here for a week and then vanished.

Meanwhile, AMC will have 7 screens devoted to “Fast & Furious 27” while Cinemark has 5 screens showing “Spider-Man vs. Batman vs. Aquaman vs. The Avengers vs. The X-Men.”

Personally, I’d have more movie theater experiences if the theaters showed a wider variety of movies.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t make comic-book franchise movies or action pictures.

And I understand why big theater chains focus on those movies (because they draw in young audiences who buy snacks and drinks, which is how theater chains make profits).

However … if theaters are only showing those movies, and those movies aren’t nominated for Oscars, the general public isn’t going to be very interested in movies they can’t see until they hit Netflix or Amazon Prime.

So my question is … how much of the declining interest in the Oscars has to do with big theater chains not showing prestige films in exchange for turning most of their screens over to big blockbuster action movies? You’re not going to root for a film to win an Oscar if you never saw it.

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