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The Globe and Mail

Oscars draw 43 million viewers, highest in a decade

Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres takes a selfie with Jared Leto, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Bradley Copper, and others.

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Sunday's Oscar telecast drew 43 million viewers in the United States, delivering the biggest audience for the Academy Awards in a decade, but divided critics, who mostly liked host Ellen DeGeneres but thought the show ran too long.

Nielsen ratings data on Monday showed the audience grew 6.4 per cent from last year, a positive sign for broadcaster ABC, which has signed on to host Hollywood's biggest night through 2020.

The Oscars attract the biggest non-sports TV audience in the U.S. each year, and the show – which saw drama 12 Years a Slave capture the best picture honour – drew its largest viewership since 2004, when 43.6 million tuned in.

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Producers' middle-of-the-road approach to the show with Ms. DeGeneres hosting gave the Walt Disney Co.-owned network similar results among younger viewers compared with last year, when they gambled with edgier comedian Seth MacFarlane as host. Ms. DeGeneres's deadpan affability hearkened back to the more genteel hosts of the past, such as Bob Hope and Johnny Carson. Brian Lowry, TV columnist for trade publication Variety, said her opening monologue "screamed of a desire to dial the show back to safer terrain."

The three-and-a-half-hour telecast, in which 24 awards were handed out, had little in terms of special tributes or performances to impress critics with its production.

"Despite a terrifically loose Ellen DeGeneres, the first half of the Oscars was the type of slog that makes you wonder if your friends who don't watch TV are onto something," Entertainment Weekly's Karen Valby wrote. New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley added: "It can start to feel like a high school graduation where diplomas are handed out alphabetically, and your child's last name begins with Z."

In a quest to draw new viewers to an old-school awards show, organizers have expanded the best picture category from five to up to 10. They also have rotated through hosts rather than settling on the same host or hosts, as the Golden Globes has done successfully with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; and Ricky Gervais before them.

Mr. MacFarlane's performance last year put off critics with his song-and-dance routines, as well as provocative bits about Jews, gays and female nudity in film.

This year's show proved to be a smash on social media, with its most talked-about moment Ms. DeGeneres' staged "selfie" with several stars in the audience. It set the record for most retweets on Twitter, so far surpassing two million, and also caused a disruption in Twitter service for about 20 minutes.

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