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The Globe and Mail

Are the Oscars still the biggest show on TV?

A good deal of what airs on ABC tonight is Oscar-themed. This smacks of desperation.

There's the special episode of 20/20, Mad About Oscar With Katie Couric (ABC, CHCH, 10 p.m.) which promises "Footage of memorable acceptance speeches, hilarious monologues, unscripted moments and red carpet fashion from the Oscar archives." Now, this sort of pre-AcademyAwards special is not unusual, though it does seem weird that the program looks back at old Oscar evenings rather than focusing on this year's contest.

But that's not all. Most ABC comedies are also Oscar-related. The Middle (ABC, Citytv, 8 p.m.) has a plot anchored around the mom's character's "upcoming annual tradition of watching the Oscars on TV…" Other allegedly funny stuff happens but plugging Sunday's Academy Awards on ABC is the main point. On The Neighbors (ABC, CTV Two, 8:30 p.m.), the episode is called Larry Bird Presents an Oscar-Winning Film by Larry Bird. There's some nonsense about a spelling bee and two characters being "obsessed" with making a documentary about the bee and winning an Oscar for it.

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On Modern Family (ABC, Citytv, 9 p.m.), we are informed, in advance, that Cameron uses baby Joe for a photo shoot, "an Oscar-themed homage to the old Hollywood." Or something. Anyway, the Oscars shindig gets thrown at viewers.

All broadcasters use the multiple platforms available to plug their shows and events these days, but there was a time when this sort of desperate promotion of the Academy Awards would not have been necessary. The glamour and spectacle of Oscar night would have been enough to ensure a mass audience was going to tune in.

Well, not this year obviously. The point of ABC's Oscar-themed sitcoms is to create the impression that everybody – totally, totally, everybody – is buzzing with Oscar fever. This isn't the case, of course. The Academy Awards used to be the biggest show on TV, but it is far from that and in truth it's just another variety program vying for attention. The actual broadcast is long, tedious and you can be guaranteed that many people who watch it will wish they hadn't wasted their time.

Perhaps we are watching the Academy Awards in its death throes. Most reasonable people would agree that very few movies now match the best of television in terms of artistic vitality, storytelling vigour and social relevance. That argument is over and television won.

And now it seems that even the spectacle of the Academy Awards – the red-carpet coverage, the speeches, the banter of the host – is in need of flagrant, frantic promotion. Possibly, by the time that awards-season ends with the Oscars, the public is just bored with the whole thing. As spectacle, the Golden Globes is more compelling, both because the merit of being honoured with a Globe is dubious, making it less prone to pomposity, and because a lot of TV shows are included in the Globes process. And, as the other awards shows roll out, the banality of the movies becomes all the more clear. Come Oscar night, any excitement has fizzled.

Maybe, just maybe, even the red-carpet coverage is now an anticlimax. So much attention has been paid to actresses and their frocks and hairdos that even the camp frivolity of watching and making catty remarks from the safety of your couch, has lost its appeal. Been there, done that.

As for the actual competition for an Academy Award, that too has become the victim of saturation coverage and speculation. Me, I haven't seen any of the movies nominated, but an hour of online reading and I can be pretty well-informed. As I understand it, Daniel Day-Lewis has the best actor award locked up, Anne Hathaway is guaranteed a win for best supporting actress, Amour wins best foreign film and Adele will certainly win for best song. And most of the cinematography and special effects awards will go Life of Pi.

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Maybe I'm wrong about some these tips. But two things are certain. First, on Monday morning next, most people won't remember much about the details of who-won-what-award. Second, the fact that ABC is flogging the Academy Awards through its sitcoms is further evidence of the increasing irrelevance of Oscar night.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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