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Oscars will rely on star power to bolster TV broadcast

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Scenic artist Rick Roberts of Local 800 primps Oscar statues near the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 22 in Los Angeles. The 89th Academy Awards will be held today.

LOS ANGELES >> If the Oscars had doubled down on nominating films with actors named Ryan, the ceremony’s chances for a ratings bounce might be as likely as host Jimmy Kimmel’s Trump jokes.

Saluting a blockbuster like Ryan Reynolds’ “Deadpool” is the surest way to lure viewers. But there’s optimism afoot that the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone charmer “La La Land,” combined with pop-star performances and Kimmel’s agile wit, will make today’s ceremony on ABC a winner.

“The fact that ‘La La Land’ is a musical, it’s a feel-good movie, it’s a romantic movie, it does bode well for the ratings this year,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst with media research firm comScore.

The modern reimagining of a classic Hollywood musical received a record-tying 14 nominations, including for best picture, its stars and writer-director Damien Chazelle. “La La Land” has dominated other awards, including the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild.

Among the eight other competitors are “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea” and “Fences.” Missing in action despite an unfilled 10th slot: superhero romp “Deadpool.” That means the ceremony, which last year posted its smallest audience in eight years (34 million), can’t ride the movie’s $363 million box-office coattails to ratings glory.

The comparable North American take for “La La Land,” $134 million and counting, is far from shabby. The same goes for the top-grossing nominee, “Hidden Figures,” which has surpassed $144 million, according to comScore.

And there will be no shortage of high-wattage star power in the three-hour ceremony. The nominees include heavyweights Denzel Washington (“Fences”) and Meryl Streep (“Florence Foster Jenkins”), with presenters ranging from newcomers (Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed) to veterans (Samuel L. Jackson, Shirley MacLaine).

The tunes are courtesy of top-tier musicians performing nominated songs, including John Legend (“Audition” and “City of Stars” from “La La Land”) and Justin Timberlake (“Can’t Stop the Feeling” from “Trolls”).

With Washington among several African-American nominees, the “OscarsSoWhite” protests that marked last year’s event — and gave host Chris Rock ample comedy fodder — are absent. Instead, as with other recent awards shows, President Donald Trump could be a prime target of Kimmel’s quips and those seeking to vent.

The president “absolutely” will be mentioned during the show, Kimmel said, but how much depends on the news of the day. The comedian downplayed the possibility of backlash from Trump supporters.

“I think smart people know funny is funny,” Kimmel said. “Everybody, for some reason, has decided that they have to pick a side, and I think people would be a lot happier if, when they heard a joke, they enjoyed the joke and didn’t attach some kind of rooting interest to it.”

Whatever the evening’s tone, an inescapable truth is that bigger movie grosses mean better Oscar ratings: “Titanic,” which brought in more than $600 million domestically, holds the record with 55 million viewers in 1998. The ceremony also boasted audience favorite Billy Crystal as host.

“Selfishly, we’d love to have ‘Rogue One’ nominated for best picture or ‘Jungle Book’ nominated for best picture,” ceremony producer Michael De Luca said. He waxed nostalgically about years past, in which popular hits including 1975’s “Jaws” and 1977’s “Star Wars” were contenders.

“We’re a little envious of that era because it means more eyes on the telecast. … But you play the hand you’re dealt,” he said.

Advertisers remain game despite a 7 percent decline in viewers last year, with ads going at about the same rate as 2016’s $2.15 million per 30-second spot and for up to $2.5 million, according to Advertising Age. (TV’s undisputed blockbuster, the Super Bowl, reportedly brought up to $5.5 million for 30-second ads on Fox this year.)

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