Well, you win, MacFarlane. Though his performance as an Oscars host last night left something to be desired (for us, anyway — the man has his faithful defenders), Seth MacFarlane still managed to attract viewers, especially young ones. The ratings reports coming in late Monday afternoon suggest that the Academy Awards broadcast was up 20 percent over last year in the all-important 18-49 rating, while gaining 3 percent in overall viewers, with 40.3 million. So, MacFarlane worked, it would seem.
The Oscars may indeed be on to something in hiring a "risky" non-traditional host like MacFarlane, eschewing the traditional cheesy schmaltzfest and Hollywood back-patting in favor of a more snarky or irreverent vein. Not that last night's broadcast wasn't full of the traditional self-congratulating, but the glitterati was teased about it the whole way, Jaws play-off music and ugly non-PC jokes and all. If the Oscars hope to survive on network television, cultivating a more base-level appeal might be what's required.
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, Oscar ratings have fluctuated vastly in the past decade or so. For example, only 31.8 million people watched in 2008. Jon Stewart was the perhaps too-niche host that year, and the Best Picture winner was the grim No Country for Old Men. The actor prizes went to Daniel Day-Lewis for a dark, arty film and Marion Cotillard for a subtitled movie about a French singer. Not exactly up mainstream America's alley. Which is to say that a host isn't completely to blame or credit for TV ratings — MacFarlane had the benefit of popular movies as Best Picture nominees and a close Best Actress race to stir interest — but of course is an important anchor for what makes an Oscars broadcast successful.
So, we should probably expect more Oscar evenings like Seth MacFarlane's in the future. It may seem like a bleak prospect to some, but others are likely rejoicing. Still, we don't see MacFarlane repeating any time soon. Part of the interest in MacFarlane's presence was that it was so novel; an unguarded insult craftsman tasked with guiding his industry's most important and Respect-heavy evening. The trick probably wouldn't have the same punch the second time around. But yes, with a ratings upgrade like this one, especially among advertisers' favorite people, we shouldn't expect to see Whoopi Goldberg or Steve Martin back on stage any time soon.