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Did Last Night's Oscars Work As A TV Show?


It was this announcement that deflated a three-hour-plus broadcast.


JOAQUIN PHOENIX: And the Academy Award for actor goes to Anthony Hopkins, "The Father."


CORNISH: Anthony Hopkins won best actor in Sunday's 93rd Oscars, and it was a surprise victory that some critics say brought a subdued end to the show. To talk about why and how the rest of the Oscars broadcast went, we turn to our critic, NPR's Eric Deggans.

Welcome back there, Eric. How are you?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I'm doing fine.

CORNISH: So we should note, obviously, Anthony Hopkins is a big deal. He's...


CORNISH: ...Been nominated for an Oscar half a dozen times. Him winning is not, like, a huge shock. But why are people criticizing the win?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, it's almost an unfair situation. And I mostly blame the producers of the Oscars telecast for setting this up by breaking with tradition and scheduling the best actor award for the last announcement of the night. Now, usually best picture closes out the night. But Chadwick Boseman, who died last year, was a sentimental favorite to win best actor for his performance in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." And I'm assuming that the Oscars producers took a chance that Boseman would win and give them this triumphant moment for diversity and his legacy at the Oscars. But instead, it unfairly made Anthony Hopkins kind of look like a spoiler for his excellent work in "The Father." And to make the situation even weirder, Hopkins wasn't there to give an acceptance speech. So the show, which didn't have a host, just kind of ended.

CORNISH: Like, just sad trombone or - what happened?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Well, Questlove, who was the DJ, kind of came on and said, you know, thanks a lot, and closed out the show. But...

CORNISH: DJ saved our lives. Yeah.

DEGGANS: It was an oddly off-balance kind of ending.

CORNISH: What else did the producers do, and how effective was it?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, the producers changed a lot. They moved the performances of the Oscar-nominated songs to the preshow. Now, that decision freed up time in the awards broadcast, but it also kind of took out a major source of entertainment for the show. They expanded the way presenters would talk about the nominees, but it often ended up making it sound like these celebrities were just glad-handing each other, congratulating each other.

The in memoriam tribute to people who died over the past year felt really rushed, and it seemed like they left out some people. And they didn't show a lot of clips from nominated films. So this program, which is supposed to celebrate film, didn't spend a lot of time celebrating the actual films.

CORNISH: I know you're a critic, but what did they do right?

DEGGANS: OK, so they had this system of testing and quarantine that made sure that a lot of the winners and presenters could actually go there in person. So it didn't look like a glorified Zoom meeting. They allowed the winners time to talk. So we got to see Thomas Vinterberg, who directed the best international feature "Another Round," talk about his daughter who died in a car accident. We got to see Travon Free, who's co-director of the best live action short film "Two Distant Strangers" - he talked about police brutality against Black people. "Nomadland" director Chloe Zhao, who won for best picture and best director, talked about finding the good in people that she encountered.

And I got to shout out my man Questlove because he did a great job as the night's DJ. He even provided the soundtrack for the night's funniest moment, which was Glenn Close dancing to EU's funky go-go hit "Da Butt."

CORNISH: And even that didn't help so much because I hear there was a drop of more than 50% in terms of ratings this year. So...

DEGGANS: In the ratings - yeah, 9.85 million - very low historically.

CORNISH: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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