Was Will Smith’s slap the last gasp for Oscars?
It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the highest rated Academy Awards of all time, 1998, when more than 57 million viewers tuned in. Ratings have plummeted since then.
Hollywood can put together a great summer blockbuster, legal thriller and holiday rom-com, but they sure can’t seem to get the Oscars right. This year’s broadcast was an unmitigated disaster, and not just because of you-know-what (but we’ll get there).
It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the highest rated Academy Awards of all time, 1998, when more than 57 million viewers tuned in. Hosted by the inimitable Billy Crystal, and jam-packed with massive movies like “Titanic,” ‘As Good as it Gets,” “Good Will Hunting” and “LA Confidential,” it was truly must-see TV.
Ratings have plummeted since then, with just 15.3 million viewers tuning in this year. And that followed an abysmal low of just under 10 million last year.
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There’s plenty of speculation and scholarship as to why, from bad hosting choices to bad movie years, overt politicization to self-indulgent nominee selections. Even the way we watch movies has changed, as has our limited attention span for live TV. But one thing’s clear — the Oscars have become irrelevant.
That is, until something wild and controversial happens to put the sleepy awards show back on the map for all the wrong reasons.
As the world now knows, a couple hours into what was already a mess of a show, Will Smith leaped on stage to slap Chris Rock across the face for a joke he told about Smith’s wife.
Save for Smith’s best actor acceptance speech a little later, everything before then and after then suddenly didn’t matter, which wasn’t great news for the night’s other winners.
It’s hard to underscore just how badly the Academy handled that moment and its aftermath, but the mistakes didn’t start there. Let’s recap:
Among three very talented comedian hosts, original jokes were few and far between. Schumer’s spin on the well-worn Leonardo DiCaprio joke about dating younger women — one Ricky Gervais made just two years ago at the Golden Globes — was tired, and DiCaprio wasn’t even there to react to it.
Regina Hall’s cringy sketch, in which she joked about using last-minute COVID swabs to inappropriately grope the night’s hottest male stars, was a strange choice for a room still dealing with #MeToo and casting couch culture.
An oddly toned “In Memoriam” segment stunningly left out beloved actors including Bob Saget, Ed Asner, Norm Macdonald, Robert Downey Sr., Meat Loaf and Willie Garson for reasons only the Academy can answer.
They even botched a moment that could have brought even more families around the television set, teasing the first-ever live performance of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” from the popular animated feature “Encanto,” but airing it well after East Coast bedtime and adding a jarring guest rap verse by Megan Thee Stallion.
Then, there was the slap.
We all know what happened by now, but here’s what didn’t happen: a single good decision by the Academy.
In the immediate aftermath, Smith returned casually to his front-row seat, where he repeatedly yelled profanities at the stage.
Where was security? Where were Academy officials to deal with the physical assault that just happened?
It turns out, according to CNN, Oscars officials “strongly considered” removing Smith following the slap, but “the Academy decision-makers were seated in various spots in the Dolby Theatre and couldn’t mobilize to make a decision before he won best actor.”
To be clear, they had nearly an hour and multiple commercial breaks to “mobilize” had they wanted to. Instead, they did nothing.
Smith accepted his award to a standing ovation, left the premises unfettered and danced the night away at the Vanity Fair party, as if he hadn’t just assaulted a comedian on live television. Rock, for his part, declined to press charges.
Then, a meaningless tweet at 1:10 a.m. ET: “The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” despite appearing to have done just that.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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