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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

My annual rite of spring

If all goes well, on Sunday evening I will be in front of my own television set in my own home in America watching the Academy Awards. (I say “if all goes well” because, as I write this, I am 3,000 miles from home directly in the path of one of New England’s famous Nor’easters.)

If I watch the program as planned on Sunday, it will be the first time in several years that this has happened. For a number of reasons, I have been far from home each year around the time of the awards ceremony. For someone, like myself, who doesn’t want to miss a single minute of the spectacle, it can be downright frustrating to be watching (or, worse, not watching) away from home. It is in particular a treat to see the ceremony in real time in the same time zone as the event. But it can be awkward to have to watch in someone else’s home. For example, I can tell you that it didn’t go over particularly well when I scolded The Missus and my mother (in her own home) that they were not allowed to talk except during the commercial breaks.

I do have to concede, though, that the first couple of years that I watched the ceremony in Ireland, it was actually better than watching at home. (Unless, of course, you consider the slight inconvenience of the fact that the ceremony begins at 2 in the morning in that time zone.) The first year I videotaped the ceremony and watched it the next day. That is, I watched most of it, since the ceremony was too lengthy to be contained all on one cassette. The next year I convinced The Missus to come with me to Cork for the night and check into a hotel with cable TV and stay up all night watching the ceremony (from bed) in real time. I was pretty tired the next day, but it was a great way to see the Oscars.

Much of the pleasure of watching that year was due to the fact that BBC2 included no commercials. So, every five or ten minutes when Los Angeles went to a commercial message, a British host would take over and spend the break chatting with some other LA-based Brit (e.g. Tracey Ullman) about how many Brits had won (or not won) awards and other topics of interest to British viewers. Aside from the over-concern about British fortunes in the awards tally, this was a very civilized way to see the program.

The stunning reality of how much time is actually wasted during the awards ceremony on commercials and other incidental stuff was brought home the first time I saw the RTÉ version of the awards ceremony. RTÉ, the Irish national broadcaster, does not present the ceremony live. Instead, they show a packaged version a couple of nights later during prime time. Not only are all the commercials removed, but supposedly-boring technical awards are skipped. Not only that, but boring parts of otherwise interesting but long speeches are also excised. So what is left after you get rid of the advertisements and the boring bits? As some of us always suspected, the remaining meat of the program lasts about 12 minutes. Just kidding. It’s more like an hour and 45 minutes, but that’s still extraordinary when you consider that the full real-time version takes up four or more hours. But while this shortened version is certainly more efficient, but some of us feel that certain things (like making love and the Oscars) just shouldn’t be rushed.

Two years ago, I was again looking forward to watching the British version of the awards on BBC2 when I was met with a rude shock. The BBC was no longer broadcasting the program. Somehow, Rupert Murdoch had gotten a hold of it. And he was showing it on a satellite channel called Sky Premiere. (Mr. Murdoch’s satellite television empire includes about 436 different channels all called Sky Something-or-other: everything from “Sky News” to “Sky Cloven-Hoofed Livestock.”) Not only did we not get this particular Sky channel, but no one we knew got this channel either. I would have considered subscribing to this channel, but in a bit of bad luck, The Missus managed to purchase a remote house that, while it has a nice view, is on the wrong side of a mountain that gets no satellite reception.

In desperation, I started ringing around to the finest hotels I could identify in the area and asked if the TV sets in their rooms got this channel. Apparently, the hoteliers in southwest Ireland are not used to getting inquiries like this. An amazing number of the hotel staff had no idea what channels were on their TV sets. And some were downright snooty about the notion that someone would choose a hotel based on the available TV channels. In the end, none of them received Sky Premiere. So, I wound up watching the RTÉ abridged version and then watching the full version weeks later at home since I had had the amazing foresight to set my VCR weeks ahead of time to record America’s ABC broadcast of the ceremony. Against all odds, no interruption of electrical service erased the VCR’s memory.

So, you can see that I take this Oscar thing seriously. I don’t mean the awards. They are arbitrary and political. But the ceremony is some of the best entertainment you can get on television. And with the magic of TiVo I will not only be able to skip the commercials myself, but I will be able to record up to 14 hours (no videotape required!) and will also be able to do my own instant replays.

Ha! Take that, Rupert Murdoch!

-S.L., 22 March 2001

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