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You've Gotta Have Hype
By Gene Farinet

Superbowl, superhype! The headline in the New York Times read “Sloppy or Not, Big Game is Smash Hit.” Despite a somewhat forgettable face-off, television ratings were the highest in a decade.

Will Oscar be so lucky? Many Americans, even this late date, aren’t familiar with a lot of the nominations. And you can’t sell something to someone who really isn’t listening.

Even the optimists aren’t so sure about TV ratings as the game clock counts down to the 78th annual Academy Awards ceremony March 5. This year, there are no blockbusters among contenders for best picture. There were no full-force, million-dollar publicity campaigns, with splashy newspaper ads, magazine cover stories, “sound-bite” epigrams on the Internet, and plugs by a gaggle of talk show hosts and their marquee guests.

Many nominees were in less costly productions, independent films not in wide release, which have relied on word of mouth to get a devoted critical and cult following.

Nor did the awards show merry-go-round do much, with at least fourteen from Golden Globes to golden statuettes, not counting top ten lists.

The weekend after nominations, “best film” favorites expanded their screens to capitalize on what politicians call “bounce” Front runner "Brokeback Mountain" had the best showing, yet with only mediocre business, dropping 13% from the previous week. The Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line did only so-so. Capote ticket sales surged after quadrupling screens, pushing a bit higher, but no breakout.

With an Academy voting deadline of February 27 it’s an uphill flight, but flacks know how to play the game. When momentum fades, highly paid strategists scramble to create it. Whenever and wherever they find a sympathetic ear, it’s talk the talk, or, if you will, indulge in good old-fashioned brown nosing. .

As for Oscar night itself, from the “envelop please” to “the winner is”, the ceremony is normally a mix of humble pie and Miss Congeniality. And probably this year, there’ll be more emphasis on issues of social significance.

The Hollywood chosen, firmly gripping gold plated statuettes, will work their way thru l-o-o-n-g lists of thank yous, to an anxious audience of artistic egos.

‘Gold rush’ begins on the red carpet, a pre-game love fest with hosts throwing bouquets, fashionistas on call for last minute touch-ups. and plastic surgeons taking bows backstage. Every year, in the months before Oscar, nip-and-tuck business reportedly jumps 20%. And yes, comedienne Joan Rivers plans to see her doctor for Botox injections. While fans at home, close to HD sets, are watching for wrinkles and weight-loss candidates.

Then stay tuned for the burning question on “42nd street”: can rookie Oscar host Jon Stewart go out there as a cable favorite, but come back a national star?”

And what would Oscar be without a Sam Goldwynism.? Whether apocryphal or not, the movie mogul once described chances of blue-ribbon success for his latest film release: “it’s absolutely impossible, but it has possibilities.”

Finally, getting into the spirit of the gala evening ahead, I’ve whipped up a press release from the Flack Institute of America and its patron saint, Our Lady of Hype.

Truly, a banner year of rare gems. Movies made for Oscar. Films that are making audiences stand up and cheer. Triumphs of shocking boldness, deep in understanding, comic jewels, a galaxy of star performances, Oscar written all over them and some of the unique and daring subjects to make their way to any screen.

So what’ve we got?
We’ve got hype
All you really need is hype
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
Spin, spin, spin.

You gotta’ have hype.

Gene Farinet, an award winning veteran newsman, spent much of his long career at NBC News as a writer and producer working with Frank McGee, Ed Newman, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw, covering space, politics and special projects everywhere in the world.


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