* Having done this for a few years, nobody is really meant to sit and intently view the Oscars for 3 1/2 hours straight unless they're A) surrounded by people drinking; B) paid to; or C) in the market for an impossibly expensive size-0 evening gown. That's probably why some critics sound particularly bitchy. Still, I always wonder when there's extra griping about award shows being "long" or "silly" or "self-important" — "Um, have you ever actually watched one of these things before?" That's sort of a given. Just to be fair, the finished product has to be considered in context.

* Preliminary results based solely on overnight metered markets show a 6% ratings increase over last year. (Nielsen's fast-national ratings will be issued after noon Pacific time.)

Update: OK, yee-ha, so the fast nationals came a little early: ABC reports that the Oscar audience actually rose 11% in total viewers, to an average of 36.3 million, and 13% among the key demo of adults 18-49.

Any improvement is good these days, though at least some of that bump over the low-rated 2008 Oscarcast is likely attributable to a more popular group of movies, including the inevitable Heath Ledger/"The Dark Knight" tribute. It does, however, seem to endorse one strategy — keeping elements of the show secret in an effort to build interest and suspense.

* The arrivals coverage has sunk to all-time lows, with virtually no discussion of the movies themselves. OK, we get it, the powers that be have decided that it's primarily women who are watching, and that they care disproportionately about fashion. You know, we don't want to fill their pretty little heads with too many thoughts or anything in between Revlon commercials.

Yet it's insulting, frankly, to have Kate Winslet standing there and not be able to ask one question about her acting, as ABC and local KABC-TV gush-bag George Pennacchio did, instead waxing on about how great she looks (duh) and whether she's nervous (double duh). Pennacchio was so effusive about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's humanitarian efforts that even they were looking at him like, "Dude, get a grip."

At least back when Roger Ebert used to join Pennacchio on the red carpet there was some give-and-take about the movies. Now it's just a race to see how fast the hosts can crawl up the talent's skirts and pants legs.

* Let the culture wars begin! Well, that didn't take long — from the web page for the second hour of Bill O'Reilly's syndicated radio show: "Big wins for the movie 'Milk' put gay rights and gay marriage back on the front burner, and that is just the way Hollywood likes it. We'll talk about the how and why of Hollywood's politics." Actually, it's rather a transparent way for cable news and talkradio to piggyback on the Oscars and inject pop culture into their shows by deriding those "Hollywood pinheads," but knock yourself out, gang.

* Now that the show's finally over, can the LA Times please re-seal "The Envelope" — maybe with Tom O'Neil inside it — until, oh, next December?

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