This Year’s Oscars Will Be Historic. Will Anyone Care?


The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

The Oscars has had a hard time getting its act together the last few years. Viewership is falling, and campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite have drawn attention to long-standing problems with how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses honorees. Everyone on Twitter has a hot take about the show’s cringey comedic bits and who would have been a better host (or whether the show should have a host at all).

This year, folks—both pop culture junkies and Academy members—had strong feelings after the Academy announced that eight of this Sunday’s awards would be handed out before the live telecast. (They’ll be recorded, edited, and played during the show.) Others remain upset, or at least confused, about the inclusion of a new “Fan Favorite” award. It’s a fraught business, and in the words of this year’s Oscars producer, Will Packer, “everybody’s got an opinion about this damn show.”

Opinions, yes. Intentions to actually watch? Maybe not. After a peak in the 1990s, when viewership for the Oscars telecast topped 50 millionthe overall number of people who watch the show has steadily declined. Last year, fewer than 11 million people tuned in. Ideally, the trimming down of the awards and inclusion of a category that people can vote for on Twitter is meant to draw more people’s attention and get them to watch the show live. As it looks now, it might do just the opposite. Either way, these adjustments are largely unnecessary—this year’s Oscars will likely be historic regardless.

For one thing, Sunday’s event will be the first Oscars since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to take place back in the Dolby Theater. (The 2020 telecast happened right before lockdowns began; last year’s ceremony was a much more toned-down affair at Los Angeles’ Union Station.) For another, there’s the possibility that Lin-Manuel Miranda could attain EGOT status if he wins for writing the song “Dos Oruguitas” featured in Disney’s Encanto—the multi-hyphenate already has Emmy, Grammy, and Tony awards. But finally, and perhaps most significantly, Sunday could mark the first time a streaming service wins a Best Picture Oscar. The two top contenders this year are The Power of the Dogwhich Netflix released (and promoted the hell out of), and CODAwhich Apple TV+ released (and also promoted the hell out of).

Nothing great about the Oscars has ever been planned. Jennifer Lawrence falling down? That was an accident. Bong Joon-ho inviting his Oscars to make out? That seemed pretty off-the-cuff. Moonlight‘s Best Picture award temporarily going to La La Land? That was a royal fuckup. People watch for these things, but in the Academy’s attempts to fabricate these moments, the levity gets lost. This year, as pundits are saying “put the Oscars out of their misery” and detailing “all the ways the Oscars screwed themselves,” the Academy is trying all sorts of tricks to curry favor. Nothing wrong with trying to disrupt the old way of doing things, but in this case, the Oscars are trying to manufacture history, when it’s already being made.

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