What are TV viewers seeking from their annual Oscar fix? The same thing they want from movies: drama, comedy, sex, slapstick, glamour and romance.
Of course, no single movie can do all that. No wonder the perfect Oscarcast is an impossible dream. No wonder so many previous Oscarcasts failed to measure up.
A perfect broadcast would include Roberto Benigni scrambling over auditorium seats to claim his trophy (1998), an onstage streaker (1974), Cher in a collection of outrageous get-ups, a rematch between 2008 rivals James Cameron and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, that deliciously awful 1988 musical number with Rob Lowe and "Snow White," more of Jack Palance's one-armed pushups from beyond the grave, plus the stirring acceptance speech by Halle Berry in 2002.
Not gonna happen. We'll just have to make do when the 87th annual Academy Awards show airs Sunday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. Besides counter-programming on other networks, here's what the Oscarcast is up against this year:
Everyone loves a blockbuster or two landing best-picture nods. It gets people talking and tuning it. But this year, big hits like "Interstellar" and "The Lego Movie" were snubbed, with the nominees almost uniformly "small" pictures — with the exception, of course, of "American Sniper," whose box-office firepower in recent weeks has caught everyone off guard and triggered hero-or-killer disputes about its protagonist.
Even so, the favorites appear to be "Birdman" and "Boyhood," both terrific films that may not be such conversation starters. To handicap their Oscar chances with your friends, you first have to find someone else who has seen them.
WHITER SHADE OF PALE
Procol Harum should be named this year's Oscar house band. As you may have noticed, there's not much diversity among the nominees. Will the contenders' pallor cast a pall on viewership, or will the uproar over the Academy's single-mindedness prod movie fans to tune in and witness what they see as Oscar's sins of omission?
IS THE HOST TOAST?
Neil Patrick Harris is so talented and versatile other entertainers would probably endorse slapping a restraining order on him. Meanwhile, viewers clearly love him, and why wouldn't they? On the other hand, he's hosted the Tonys four times and the Emmys twice. Isn't there someone else out there, maybe with new tricks up his or her sleeve, who could shake things up beyond Harris' dependable excellence?
Nothing against the nominated directors, honest! But overall, these guys — no matter how admired and acclaimed — aren't household names. Not yet, anyway. Here's hoping that, if he wins, his presenter isn't John Travolta (who already mangled Idina Menzel's name on last year's Oscarcast).
GETTING IN THE ACT
Maybe a new way of watching the Oscars calls for a new kind of Oscarcast. Tom O'Neil, editor of the awards prediction website GoldDerby.com, thinks so.
"It used to be that viewership was tied to the popularity of the films in contention," he says. "But there's been a dramatic shift in the last few years since social media has started to matter."
Now the Oscarcast, like lots of TV fare, is being fortified with a second screen enabling the viewer to participate, not just sit back and watch. This could signal a change in what draws viewers to the show and keeps them there.
"Everybody wants to watch," says O'Neil, "then tweet to their friends what they're thinking. That changes everything."
Last year's broadcast had a landmark moment when host Ellen DeGeneres arranged a all-star selfie. Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were among the A-listers crowding into the frame. DeGeneres then asked viewers (of which there were 43 million, the most for the Oscarcast in a decade) to help her set a retweet record. Legions quickly complied, sharing the photo throughout cyberspace and even briefly crashing Twitter.
Count on similar give-and-take Sunday night, says O'Neil, who offers his recipe for what a digital-age Oscarcast should be striving for.
"It doesn't have to be oh-my-God-amazing," he proposes. "It has to be an engaging, interactive experience." And without the customary big-movie lures, "this is the year we may find out for sure if that's true or not."