Seth MacFarlane drew mixed reaction as Oscars host. / Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Some critics called host Seth MacFarlane offensive, while his fans thought he was too tame.
But 40.3 million viewers tuned in to watch Sunday's 85th annual Oscars, a million more than last year, and the 3-hour-and-35-minute trophy show turned in its biggest total since 2010. Among the young-male fan base of MacFarlane's often-crude Family Guy and Ted, the audience grew 34% over last year, a bigger jump than for any other group. (Last year's Oscars also aired opposite the NBA All-Star Game.)
The gain among young women, and ABC's target audience of adults 18 to 49, was 11%, while ratings among folks 50 and older, many of whom had probably never heard of the host, dropped 9%.
Often, the awards ratings depend more heavily on the nominated films, and this year a broad range of movies took home trophies, from crowd-pleasing hits such as Argo and Lincoln to narrower fare including Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook. A record 57.3 million tuned in in 1998 to see smash Titanic win best picture, while the low mark came 10 years later when No Country for Old Men won the top award and just 32 million watched.
But reaction on social media and elsewhere was decidedly mixed. MacFarlane opened the Oscars with We Saw Your Boobs, an original production number that name-checked Hollywood's breast-revealing actresses, several of them in the Dolby Theatre audience.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences knew what it was getting in MacFarlane, 39, who veered between old-school crooning (he fancies himself a modern-day Dean Martin) and the edgy humor for which he's known, taking aim at Jews, gays and other celebrities. Twitter was split on a joke about Django Unchained, in which a man rescues his woman from "unspeakable violence ... or, as Chris Brown and Rihanna call it, a date movie." And there were more.
"When they announced Seth as host, the question was always how they would maintain the level of appropriateness," says Brent Poer, president of Liquid Thread, which produces sponsored content at ad giant Starcom MediaVest. But "what's most important is that he drove social conversation in and around the show by managing to be himself, be quick on his feet and, ultimately, stay within the boundaries, 85% of the time. Plus, he can sell a soft-shoe, song-and-dance number, so he gets extra points there."
And Tom O'Neil, who runs GoldDerby.com, an awards-prediction site, says "MacFarlane ranks among the three best hosts of the past decade. He matched the song-and-dance chops of Hugh Jackman and the snarky stand-up of Billy Crystal. Somewhere, Bob Hope is smiling."
The Los Angeles Times called MacFarlane's hosting stint only "occasionally crude and mildly offensive," but dubbed the show "long, self-indulgent and dull." The Hollywood Reporter, which said MacFarlane is "fearless when skewering pop culture (with) absolutely zero hesitation in crossing line after line of perceived good taste," called the host "relatively tame" by his standards.
And USA TODAY's Robert Bianco said that while the "boobs" song "was meant to represent the kind of 'wild, crazy and tasteless' stunt folks were supposedly afraid the man behind Family Guy might do," it proved, "unfortunately, less wild, crazy or tasteless than it needed to be."
The show clocked in at 3 hours and 35 minutes, historically a typical length that was nonetheless about 20 minutes longer than each of the last two years.
The viewership of the last five Oscars: 2012, 39.3 million viewers (best picture: The Artist); 2011, 37.9 million (The King's Speech); 2010, 41.7 million (The Hurt Locker); 2009, 36.3 million (Slumdog Millionaire); and 2008, 32.0 million (No Country for Old Men).
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