The Oscars Adding A Popular Film Category, Trying To Limit The Telecast To Three Hours

Every single year, the Academy Awards capture the attention of millions around the world. But if there's one complaint that even the most loyal Oscars viewers have, it's that the awards telecast is always far too long, often landing somewhere between three and four hours. But The Academy's board of governors has announced some new changes that will both keep the telecast to a tight three hours and give viewers a new category to tune in for that will honor "outstanding achievement in popular film." But what does that mean?

The Hollywood Reporter brought our attention to a new message sent to Academy members today announcing a few changes to future Oscar telecasts. In addition to re-electing John Bailey to another one-year term as president, the board approved the following changes to the upcoming Academy Awards broadcast.

Oscars Telecast Only Three Hours, Shafting Certain Awards

The Academy will make a concerted effort to have an Oscars telecast that only lasts three hours to make the show "more accessible Oscars for our viewers worldwide." That means some categories won't get the time in the spotlight that they used to during the live broadcast. Instead, select categories will still be presented live in the Dolby Theatre during commercial breaks and will have winning moments edited and briefly aired later in the broadcast.

While I can appreciate the Academy's efforts to keep the length of the telecast down in order to possibly lure in more viewers and raise ratings, the fact that some artists who deserve recognition in front of a large audience will be given a smaller window to shine is a little frustrating. Surely the artists potentially in the running for whichever categories get pushed off air will raise hell about this decision.

There's plenty of bloat in the Oscars telecast that can be cut, from the long comedy monologue by the host to the handful of montages used to honor the history of cinema. But those are also pieces that help make the telecast a little more entertaining than watching a banquet with famous people glad-handing each other. There must be some way to streamline the broadcast without hurting the artists who are supposed to be honored on Hollywood's biggest night.

New Popular Film Oscar Category

The Oscars will also try to appeal to general audiences by creating a new category that will honor "outstanding achievement in popular film." However, eligibility requirements and other details about the award have not been provided yet. That raises a lot of questions.

So what kind of award will this be? Could the Oscars make a category that will be voted on by the general public like the People's Choice Awards? If that's not the case, how will they determine what a "popular" movie will be? Could it be based on box office numbers? Maybe the Rotten Tomatoes score?

Honestly, even if we know the answers to those questions, the creation of this award is basically a slap in the face of movies that aren't "popular" enough for a chance at winning this Oscar. Do movies that aren't popular deserve less of a chance at Oscar glory? Why are they distinguishing between movies that are popular and aren't?

The description is vague and unhelpful in that regard, but the use of the word "popular" indicates that this is the Academy trying to bring in general audiences who otherwise might not be interested in the Oscars because they usually honor lower profile arthouse releases and indie films. Instead, this category will highlight major studio blockbusters rarely nominated in major categories.

Most famously, The Dark Knight missed out on a Best Picture nomination that many felt was deserved, and that resulted in the Academy changing the way Best Picture nominees were determined, making it so there can be anywhere between five and ten nominees depending on how the ballots turn out. The Academy likely wants to avoid that kind of backlash this year, probably just in case a movie like Black Panther doesn't get a Best Picture nomination (which Christopher Nolan predicted it could land, and Kevin Feige hopes it will). With this new system, that film can still get a nomination in whatever this popular film Oscar category will be. Of course, that seems like a participation trophy in the worst way possible. Does anyone really want to be the sloppy seconds of the Oscars?

Oscars Move to Early February in 2020

Finally, the Academy board approved a change in the airdate for the Oscars this year. Originally, the 92nd Academy Awards were slated to air on February 23, 2020. But now they've been bumped up to February 9, 2020. Does that mean the Oscars will try to be earlier in the year from now on? That remains to be seen.

Otherwise, the 91st Academy Awards next year will still be broadcast on Sunday, February 24, 2019, and we'll be covering them closely as usual.