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The Globe and Mail

This year's Academy Awards will not be your grandma's Oscars

So, what else is happening? Oh yes, the Academy Awards.

Coming this Sunday on ABC and CTV, it's the big showbiz shindig of the year. Frocks, shoes, jewellery. "What are you wearing?" questions. And, yes, the movie awards.

However, the sound you hear out of Hollywood right now is not the sound of swishing taffeta, clinking bling and stars' assistants gushing, "You look fabulous!"

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Nope. The sound you hear is of nails being bitten, knuckles being gnawed and prayers being offered to the gods who make people watch TV and, in particular, those gods who make young viewers watch TV. The Academy Awards show is engaged in a desperate search for a big TV audience. Because the bottom line is this - it's a TV show. Forget the blather and grandiosity of the movie directors and producers. Forget the actors going all la-di-da about their passion for their work. It's a TV show in need of eyeballs, especially young eyeballs.

Last year's utterly unmemorable Oscars - hosted by Hugh Jackman, and with Slumdog Millionaire winning a bunch of statuettes - drew 36.3 million viewers for ABC (4.4 million for CTV in Canada), an increase of 4.3 million people from the previous year, which was the lowest-rated Academy Awards show ever. What haunts the Academy and ABC is the fact that, in 1998, 55 million people tuned in to see Titanic win a record 11 Oscars. It was 6.6 million for CTV in Canada.

The Academy Awards show now airs in a very different environment. In 2006, the season premiere of American Idol drew 55 million viewers, matching those magical Oscar numbers. Last week, up against the Winter Olympics on NBC, Fox had 22 million tune in to American Idol. About 105 million people watched the Super Bowl recently. The Academy Awards are in decline as a TV event.

This year, new producers of the Oscars telecast are desperate for big ratings and young viewers. Simultaneously, they don't want to alienate the traditional, older audience. This has made for some bizarre manoeuvres and suggests that one screwed-up show is coming our way.

Codgers Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will co-host. A DJ has been hired to play some tunes before and during the show. There are 10 Best Picture nominations, in the hope of drawing more and younger viewers - in case Avatar doesn't act as the same big draw as Titanic - but good movies that clicked with younger movie-goers, such as (500) Days of Summer, were ignored. There are presenters meant to represent "Young Hollywood": Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart. But, in truth, these people would probably be a lot more comfortable at some MTV awards show. Will Martin, Baldwin and many viewers even know who they are?

Meanwhile, ABC has announced that the pre-Oscar red-carpet show will be hosted by Sherri Shepherd from The View, Jess Cagle from Entertainment Weekly magazine and Kathy Ireland, the former model, author and entrepreneur. Most fans of Zac Efron and Kristen Stewart would not have a clue who these people are.

In one notable move, Barbara Walters announced this week that Sunday's Oscars special, her 29th to air just before the Academy Awards, will be her last. "I think I'm sick of them," she said. "I feel I've been there, done that." That may well be true, but it's also possible that ABC was sick of the show. Walters is 80 years old. She's old enough to be the grandmother of some stars and presenters.

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This year's Academy Awards will not be your grandma's Oscars. The Academy hopes, anyway.

Also airing tonight

Frontline: The Suicide Tourist (PBS, 9 p.m.) is the new work by Academy Award-winning Canadian filmmaker John Zaritsky. Very powerful, deeply poignant, it follows 59-year-old Craig Ewert, an American with Lou Gehrig's disease, as he goes to Switzerland to take his own life with the assistance of Dignitas, the non-profit organization that has helped more than 1,000 people die since 1998. Ewert is a retired computer-science professor and very articulate and thoughtful about his decision. "I'm not tired of living," he says. "I'm tired of the disease, but I'm not tired of living. And I still enjoy it enough that I'd like to continue. But the thing is that I really can't." He can't continue, he says, because the disease will continue to ravage his body, and he does not want to wait to die in unbearable suffering. It is Ewert, not the filmmaker or pundits, who dwells on the morality of his decision.

Parenthood (NBC, 10 p.m.) is also new. The series is derived from the hit movie of the same title. Here, Sarah Braverman (Lauren Graham, from Gilmore Girls), a single mother with money worries, uproots her two teenage kids and moves back home to Berkeley, Calif., to be closer to her large, extended family. Thus, we get Sarah's relationship with her parents while she tries to do the right things with her kids. There's her inevitable crusty but lovable dad (Craig T. Nelson) and strong but suffering mother (Bonnie Bedelia), who are, of course, dealing with their own marital travails. And there's her sister, Julia (Erika Christensen), who is everything Sarah is not - a slick, tough lawyer doing the mom thing with ease. Parenthood is all fuzzy warmth and thoroughly predictable.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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