Oscars telecast scores highest audience in a decade

Mon Mar 3, 2014 5:51pm EST
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sunday's Oscar telecast drew 43 million viewers in the United States, delivering the biggest audience for the Academy Awards in a decade, but divided critics, who mostly liked host Ellen DeGeneres but thought the show ran too long.

Nielsen ratings data on Monday showed the audience that watched slavery drama "12 Years a Slave" capture the best picture honor grew 6.4 percent from last year. That is a positive sign for broadcaster ABC, which has signed on to host Hollywood's biggest night through 2020.

The Oscars attract the biggest non-sports TV audience in the United States each year, and the show drew its largest viewership since 2004, when 43.6 million tuned in.

Producers' middle-of-the-road approach to the show with DeGeneres hosting gave the Walt Disney Co-owned network similar results among younger viewers compared with last year, when they gambled with edgier comedian Seth MacFarlane as host.

DeGeneres' deadpan affability hearkened back to the more genteel hosts of the past like Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. Brian Lowry, TV columnist for trade publication Variety, said her opening monologue "screamed of a desire to dial the show back to safer terrain."

The 56-year-old comic and daytime talk show host earned high marks for her opening bits, landing jokes about actress Jennifer Lawrence falling on her way to accept an Oscar last year and teasing Oscar voters as "racists" if "12 Years a Slave" did not win best picture.

The three-and-a-half hour telecast, in which 24 awards were handed out, had little in terms of special tributes or performances to impress critics with its production.

"Despite a terrifically loose Ellen DeGeneres, the first half of the Oscars was the type of slog that makes you wonder if your friends who don't watch TV are onto something," Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby wrote.   Continued...

Lupita Nyong'o, best supporting actress winner for her role in "12 Years a Slave", speaks on stage at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California March 2, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson