Last Sunday’s Emmy awards, like the night’s big winner, Mad Men, failed to attract the desired fan attention; at 12.2 million viewers, the awards show’s ratings were the worst since 1990. But unlike the decorated and critically praised AMC series whose viewership has crawled in the 920,000-range since last season, the telecast received almost universally lukewarm responses from critics (USA Today called it “hideously awful”). In both its disappointing ratings and negative feedback, the unofficial pinnacle of the year’s TV season recalls another glitzy affair: The most recent Academy Awards broadcast.
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.