The very first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929 lasted 15 minutes. That figure should shock award show lovers and hate-watchers who will tune in at 8 PM EST on Sunday, March 4, 2018, (a school night!) for a potentially four-hour 90th Academy Awards show.
The Oscars are too damn long. Maybe it’s ABC’s need to pay off the now-$75 million broadcasting rights with as many $2.6 million ad spots as possible. Or it’s Hollywood’s desire to pack as many famous people as they can in one room. Live shows like these are also always unpredictably full of shitty shticks, impassioned speeches, and uncomfortable sexist jokes. Either way, I’m more interested in why we put up with these long, boring-ass award shows that weren't even created for us.
To imagine the average person’s perfect Oscars ceremony, look no further than the content media companies (VICE included) produce around the show. We snip out the few good jokes and inspiring speeches, then package the winners in an SEO-optimized, shareable article. According to ABC's programming schedule, its goal is to get this thing done in three hours, but that hasn't happened in three decades. Ideally, I could get my Oscars info downloaded into my brain with about 15 minutes of reading—which is exactly how long that first, pre-mass media ceremony was.
The Academy Awards shot up to nearly two hours in 1930 as the ceremony was broadcast for the first time through local radio station KNX, which had the good sense to air it for only an hour. The Oscars didn’t break the three-hour mark until 1974, when The Sting won Best Picture and a man streaked in the background of the broadcast.
The 80s and 90s Oscars were consistently a three-plus hour commitment. Billy Crystal hosted in 1998 and broke four hours for the first time, ironically with an opening line that compared the Academy Awards to the Titanic. “We are huge, we are expensive, and everyone wants us to go a lot faster,” he said. Crystal’s show was dethroned in 2002 by Whoopi Goldberg’s four-hour-and-20-minute extravaganza. Whether it was the added security for the first post-9/11 Oscars, the chaos of establishing itself at the Kodak Theatre for the first time, or simply careless scheduling, the Academy Awards have never dragged on longer.
It’s hard to imagine how the 270 attendees gathered in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929, spent the rest of the evening. No celebrities’ bloated attempts at comedy? No extravagant performances? No political statements? No smarmy back-patting? No one today would even recognize that show as the Oscars.
Just as Facebook is designed to benefit advertisers who purchase human data en masse, the truth is that the Oscars aren’t for the viewers. Louis B. Mayer created the Academy as a public-relations machine and a mechanism to block the entertainment industry from unionizing. That ship has sailed, but the cameras are there so the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can pay for its fancy party.
That's not to say that there's no value in the Hollywood's biggest night. The platform can occasionally be subverted with a media blitz that shames some of the powerful into pretending to be responsible. At the end of the day, there’s no better validation for an artist’s hard work, timeliness, and skillful campaigning than a gold statue. But in four hours, I could watch Sean Baker's tragically snubbed Florida Project twice—with room for a bathroom break—and it would be a better use of my time.
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