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FROM THIS EPISODE

I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

Most people watch the Oscars for the fashions, the show, the speeches and, of course, the faux pas. Come on -- everyone loves to see an elegantly dressed train wreck.

But folks who market movies don’t care all that much about what happens in the Kodak Theater, as long as it results in television ratings. Because as much as the Academy Awards celebrate the art of film, they are as importantly a way to sell movie tickets.

Some were predicting that without a blockbuster in the Best Picture category, this year’s broadcast would sink lower than last year’s all-time ratings low. But the naysayers -– including me -– were wrong. The telecast was watched by about 6% more Americans than last year, with strong audiences in the biggest markets.

The reverse in the ratings slide could be attributed to the singing, dancing and just all around fabulous Hugh Jackman. The new format provided some truly moving moments and the new set was sparkle-riffic.

A good number of people certainly tuned in because of Heath Ledger’s expected posthumous win, and Mickey Rourke’s tabloid-ready comeback story didn’t hurt either.

I would add that the room itself just had a more lively feel, and that translated more exciting viewing at home. Jackman worked the crowd during the commercial breaks, and I think for the first time ever members could be seen schmoozing when the show came back. Usually, every seat in the front sections has to be occupied by an audience member or seat filler before the cameras go live.

The Oscar’s producers clearly sweated the details to make sure the telecast was a success. Hiring Tim Gunn to talk fashion on the red carpet was casting brilliance. But even more brilliant was asking some stars to forgo the red carpet so that fashionistas in TV land would have to actually watch the show to see who was wearing what.

The speech by the Academy’s president is always a real low point in the show, and this year the producer’s got up the nerve to cut him from the lineup. But the real masterstroke was the pre-Oscar PR campaign that teased the press with promised surprises -– and then delivering on some of those promises.

Of course, the cynics will not be denied. Blogger Nikki Finke of DeadlineHollywoodDaily called the opening number a “crapfest” ending her “live snarking” by saying “once again, the Academy committed public suicide.”

My most serious piece of criticism was the exclusion of screenwriter Irv Brecher from the always moving memorial montage. The writer of Meet Me in St. Louis, and a punch-up guy on The Wizard of Oz, Irv was the only single person ever to be credited as the writer of a Marx Brother’s film. The Wicked Wit of the West, as Groucho dubbed him, died in November at the age of 94.

If that was the lowlight, the highlight for me was Japanese animated short winner Kunio Kato proving with his heavily accented acceptance speech that brevity is indeed the soul of wit. Domo arigato to you, Mr. Kato.

Of course, what I thought, or what Nikki Finke thought, or what anybody thinks for that matter is irrelevant. What does matter is whether Hollywood sees a box office bounce from the Oscars.

And this year, for the first time ever, the Academy used the event not just to promote upcoming films not just films already in theaters. And not just to promote award-nominated movies -– but any old movie. I say, whoever came up with the idea to end the broadcast with clips of soon to be released movies ought to get an Oscar -- or at least a raise.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at TheBusiness@kcrw.org. You can download a podcast of this commentary, share it with a friend, or embed it on your blog with the click of a button from our new media player at kcrw.com/TheBusinessBrief. For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.

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