The Oscars Identity Crisis

Will the real Oscar please stand up?  The Academy Awards take place this Sunday and the producers are trying their best to hype it up to a broad audience. While still trying to position themselves as the elite Hollywood tastemakers who allegedly value art over commerce in deciding who wins their cherished trophies, they also want need to attract a mainstream audience too instead of just the typical film buffs (like me) who tune in year after year no matter which motion pictures are nominated. They want need to broaden their demographic beyond just the folks interested in what fashion trends the stars are championing (or butchering) on the Red Carpet. This year, there is a more concerted effort to "rebrand" the show. 

It will not have the stodgy name. Gone is "The 85th Annual Academy Awards." In its place is simply "The Oscars 2013." With Seth MacFarlane as the host, everyone is expecting a better, more entertaining production than in the past. Then again, that's what they were hoping with James Franco and Ann Hathaway as hosts a few years ago before returning to the tried-and-true Billy Crystal in 2012. Does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences want to attract a younger audience or the traditional older audience? In the best case scenario, it would attract both instead of desperately reaching for an "either/or" option, which typically ends up attracting neither in the numbers that the multi-billion dollar industry truly deserves.

The ratings for the Oscar ceremony have typically been spectacular, even though some years are better than others. Usually, more people watch if there is a popular movie competing for the big prize, such as Silence of the Lambs or Titanic. The Academy tried to increase the odds of more blockbusters being nominated by expanding the Best Picture category, yet hits such as the Batman and Harry Potter movies still were snubbed.  The Dark Knight Rises and the James Bond flick Skyfall, although earning critical and commercial success, failed to garner a nomination in the top categories.

The Oscars are still trying to draw those mainstream crowds, however, who likely didn't see many of the films that did get nominated (Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, The Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, etc.).  Commercials publicizing the telecast have showcased MacFarlane's humor and also teased some of the key moments scheduled for the ceremony: a tribute to the James Bond films; live performances by Barbra Streisand, Norah Jones, and Adele; a tribute to movie musicals; and an appearance by the cast of Marvel's The Avengers, the biggest hit of 2013, which only merited one nomination for Best Visual Effects -- but at least they can all show up and present an award together.

Will the rebranding effort help the Academy Awards the Oscars achieve new relevance? Or will it be the same old same old?