One could certainly accentuate the positive in analyzing this year's 10 best-picture nominees, noting that the animated "Up" and sci-fi parable "District 9" — both highly deserving — made the list.
But part of me can't help but wonder which movies got in strictly because of the expanded field — namely, which landed the six through 10 spots on the list?
It will probably be harder to discern, based on recent trend lines, whether expanding the number of nominees yielded the desired effect of bringing more audience to the show. We've already seen surges in viewing for the Golden Globes and particularly this week's Grammy Awards. Moreover, the best-picture slate includes "Avatar," which is poised to become the highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S., having already conquered the world.
Finally, even with those commercial winds at its back, the "Avatar" coronation doesn't seem certain — as evidenced by the recent Directors Guild award to Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker." Moreover, there are several movie stars featured in popular films (see Sandra Bullock and George Clooney), as opposed to the usual assortment of indie darlings.
If the ratings don't experience a bit of a bump with all those factors, it might be time for the motion picture academy and ABC to throw in the towel.
ABC's sales department has long referred to the Oscars as "the Super Bowl for women." Given all the aforementioned advantages, that reasonably ought to translate into a bump of 10% to 20% in the ratings — or somewhere between 40 and 45 million viewers. (The TV world has changed an awful lot since 55 million people watched James Cameron's "Titanic" win in 1998.)
Of course, if the TV ratings do surge thanks in part to "Avatar," what's the opposite of a Pandora's box?