LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - More than 36 million U.S. viewers watched Sunday’s song-and-dance Oscars on television, lifting the glitzy film awards show from record low ratings in 2008, according to national ratings figures on Monday.
The three and one-half hour broadcast on ABC saw “Slumdog Millionaire” triumph with eight Oscars in a show given a new twist by Australian host Hugh Jackman.
The telecast drew 36.3 million U.S. viewers, up about 13 percent from the record low audience of 32 million in 2008, according to audience tracker Nielsen Media Research.
But while the Academy Awards show still ranks as the year’s highest-rated entertainment spectacle on TV, and a cash cow for Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, Sunday’s figures reflected the gradual drop-off in American TV audiences in general, as well as Oscar watchers, over the past 10 years.
The 2006 Oscars were watched by 39 million Americans. A record 55 million tuned in in 1998 when “Titanic” sailed off with 11 Academy Awards.
The annual show also attracts millions of viewers around the world.
Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men movies, starred in the 2008 film “Australia” and is an award winning musical theater performer, was brought in to give the 81st Oscar show a new look.
The traditional, joke-filled opening monologue was cut, and Jackman performed two song-and-dance routines — one with actress Anne Hathaway and a second alongside singer Beyonce and popular young stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
TV critics, however, were lukewarm about the Oscar show. Tom Shales in The Washington Post said Jackman was a “versatile and energetic talent” but called his opening medley of songs on the best picture nominees “pointless and flat.”
Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times said Jackman was a “shrewd, even thrifty choice for a recession-era Oscar night — the hosting equivalent of a value meal.”
Vibrant Bollywood-style performances of Oscar-nominated songs from “Slumdog Millionaire” put a lively spin on the evening, which saw the main acting awards go to British actress Kate Winslet for “The Reader” and American Sean Penn for “Milk.”
Heath Ledger, a star of 2008’s No. 1 box office hit “The Dark Knight” was awarded a rare posthumous Oscar as best supporting actor and his family from Australia gave emotional acceptance speeches from the Kodak Theater podium.
Spain’s Penelope Cruz took the best supporting actress award for her part in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Patrick Goldstein savaged the telecast. “I’m beginning to believe that saving the Oscars is a job for Iron Man or Hancock, a kick-ass superhero with the kind of unassailable powers that would allow them to radically overhaul what has become the year’s stodgiest awards fest.”
Editing by Patricia Zengerle