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If Seth MacFarlane bombed, why did more people watch the Oscars?

Kristin Chenoweth and Oscars host Seth MacFarlane perform the closing number at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS

Take that, haters. The numbers are in. Despite being roundly panned as Oscar host, Seth MacFarlane drew in more viewers than last year's broadcast – and 20 per cent more viewers in the key 18-49 demographic, according to the Atlantic Wire. Overall viewership was up 3 per cent, with 40.3 million U.S. viewers.

In Canada, 6.1 million viewers watched the awards – which matches the 2011 and 2012 audiences, a CTV press release says.

With 14.5 million viewers tuning in at some point in the evening, CTV reported a peak of 7.2 million viewers at 10:22 p.m. ET, as Canadian actor Christopher Plummer presented Anne Hathaway with her award for best supporting actress in Les Misérables.

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So, how to square the drubbing MacFarlane took as host with the bump in ratings? Didn't his lame sexist, racist, homophobic jabs alienate just about everyone?

Well, yes and no.

As Atlantic Wire writer Richard Lawson sees it, we all tuned in to find out what an edgy, flippant guy like MacFarlane would do with the gig – success or train wreck?

"The Oscars may indeed be on to something in hiring a 'risky' non-traditional host like MacFarlane, eschewing the traditional cheesy schmaltzfest and Hollywood back-patting in favour of a more snarky or irreverent vein. Not that [Sunday] night's broadcast wasn't full of the traditional self-congratulating, but the glitterati was teased about it the whole way, Jaws play-off music and ugly non-PC jokes and all. If the Oscars hope to survive on network television, cultivating a more base-level appeal might be what's required."

At the same time, we no longer turn off the TV when we get offended or bored. Instead, we stick around so we can tweet the most egregious, boring and boorish bits to our Twitter followers.

So, as Salon writer Andrew Leonard suggests: "In our pre-Twitter past, we might have simply turned off the TV or switched channels once MacFarlane started singing his dumb song about boobs. But now we stay watching to share our hate! We seem to be more willing to rubberneck at car crashes when we are all doing it together. And it's not just comics who are having a bad day who get the social media pillorying pile-on. We do it during presidential debates and while watching Super Bowl commercials and Downton Abbey."

And while we're all gloating about our clever critiques and retweeting up a storm, who wins? Why, the producers of the Oscars, of course.

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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