Academy Awards Boosts Best Pix Noms in Vie for Viewers

The motion picture academy hopes it has figured out a way to attract more viewers to its Academy Awards broadcast on ABC - up the number of Best-Flick nominees from 5 to 10.

That way, fans of 10 films, instead of fans of five films, will tune in to see if their fave flick wins The Big One.

Take that, Golden Globes!

It's not really a new concept - back in the really old days ('30s and 40s) the Best Picture derby was jammed with nominees, including nine years with 10 noms and even a couple years with a dozen contenders. FYI, the academy ended the practice after the 1943 Academy Awards - the year "Casablanca" was named best picture. Casablanca" (which, in case you just came out from under a flat rock, is a great WWII flick that starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and so on) competed in a field of nominees that included "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Heaven Can Wait", "The Human Comedy", "In Which We Serve", "Madame Curie", "The More the Merrier", "The Ox-Bow Incident", "The Song of Bernadette", and "Watch on the Rhine"

But, of course, the greatest year ever for best pix nominees is generally considered to be 1939, when the contenders were: "Stagecoach," "Wuthering Heights," "Dark Victory," "Love Affair," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Ninotchka," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Of Mice and Men," "The Wizard of Oz" and winning "Gone with the Wind." No idea what I'm talking about? Lucky you -- most of these movies can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. Sadly for all of us, the Academy Awards did not start being broadcast on TV until 1953.

"After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year," academy prez Sid Ganis announced in a canned statement spread around by Oscar broadcaster ABC. Unfortunately, the news release did not explain why the trophy show abandoned the practice back in the 40s.But it's safe to say the movie studios are happy with the plan because, presumably, 10 movies nominated for best picture meanw more ticket sales than 5 movies nominated for best picture. Not that ticket sales are hurting these days: despite the recession, movie ticket sales this year are up by more than 17 percent according to tracking firm Media by Numbers. And that's not just about ticket prices being higher - number of tickets sold was also up by about the same percent which is one of the biggest sales spikes in recent movie history.

Also happy: trade papers which are struggling and dying, and now hope to enjoy 10 Best Picture Nominee For Your Consideration ad-buying campaigns instead of just five.
But happiest of all has to be ABC, which could see a much needed ratings hike for the Oscarcast.

The 2009 Academy Awards broadcast clocked about 36 million viewers which is the trophy show's third smallest audience in recent history. That's only slightly better than '08's trophy show, when a mere 32 million tuned in to see "No Country for Old Men" named best picture.

On the flip side, there are some - okay, me - who think the Academy will be hard pressed to come up with 10 nomination-worthy flicks for the '10 trophy show. The next batch of nominees will be announced on Feb. 2, 2010 and the Oscar clambake will be held Sunday, March 7 of '10.What, among the crop of flicks that have been release so far this year, is worthy of a nomination? "The Proposal"? Hangover"? "Year One"? "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"? "Up"? Anybody? I'm asking - seriously.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  June 24, 2009; 5:22 PM ET TV News
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