Hosted by Jon Stewart, this spring's Oscars suffered their lowest ratings ever—embarrassingly, on the awards' 80th anniversary year. Like the Emmys, the telecast featured a slew of critically hailed but otherwise unpopular films, including No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood and La Vie En Rose. No Country, this year's Best Picture winner, totaled just slightly over $74 million in domestic box office—before and after the Academy Awards aired—while There Will Be Blood grossed $40 million during its entire theatrical run (as a comparison, the frightening embarrassment that was Norbit brought in more profits than either film). Perhaps not surprisingly, a survey conducted after the Academy Awards aired revealed that 76 percent of viewers hadn't seen any of the five films nominated for Best Picture.
I venture to guess that Heath Ledger will indeed get his posthumous Oscar nomination early next year—but not for his inventive Joker portrayal alone. Academy Awards organizers must be itching to reclaim their popularity, even at the risk of overlooking lower-budget films. And despite the awards glory enjoyed by 30 Rock and Mad Men, there's still a reason to fear for the future of intellectual on-screen entertainment. As it seems, acclaim is less relevant for business than ever.